When Is There a Lawyer Conflict of Interest?

Essentially, when an attorney tries to represent to people who have different interests.  Under Rule 1.7(a) of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional conduct

a conflict of interest exists if there is significant risk that the lawyer’s representation of the client will be materially limited by the lawyer’s own interest in the fee arrangement or by the lawyer’s responsibilities to the third-party payer

These cases are especially egregious because clients assume that their confidences are closely held by their lawyer; that their interests are aligned with their lawyer; that they can trust their lawyer.  The system only works when the lawyer is aggressively and zealously advocating for his or her client. 

Clients come to us devastated when their trusted advocate was misleading them. 

Examples of Potential Attorney Conflicts of Interest in Massachusetts

  • Lawyer represents driver and passenger in motor vehicle accident.  We see this all the time, especially when two clients are trying to share the same limited pot of money, how can the lawyer apportion this?  This is a conflict of interest.  Lawyers have been reprimanded in Massachusetts for trying to do this when there is any chance that there could be a conflict of interest. 
  • Lawyer and non-lawyer go into business together.  Does the lawyer have greater knowledge of the law?  Could he or she be taking advantage?  Did the lawyer get this “business opportunity” by knowing his or her clients’ personal business?
  • Lawyer represents client and the opposing side was a former client of the lawyer.  After a divorce, one party thought the spouse’s lawyer was more effective, so s/he tries to hire the lawyer for a case that has something to do with the ex- spouse. 
  • Lawyer represents husband and wife in a divorce.  Even if everything is simple, amiable, with no assets, this is not acceptable.  There may be subtle issues.  There may be undisclosed assets.
  • Lawyer represents business against landlord when lawyer had represented landlord personally before.  For example, when our clients found out that the lawyer was essentially trying to mediate between them, and their landlord, they figured that that the landlord was his former client; they realized why their interests were not being aggressively advocated.  Note too that the insurance defense trial lawyer said that there was no conflict.  However, the lawyer for our clients had represented the landlord in more than a DOZEN criminal actions, including serious felony charges, over many years!  How could there not be a conflict? 

Retaining Competent Counsel in Conflict-of-Interest Malpractice Cases

Conflict of interest legal malpractice cases are intriguing because like the case cited above, the malpractice insurance defense lawyers adamantly claim that the lawyer was not in conflict.  They refuse to admit what is usually a clear conflict. 

Be forewarned, the issue in your case may be damages.  They lawyer may have violated the rule, subtly or flagrantly, but how did you lose out?  We need to prove both – that there was a conflict, and that you had damages.  We need to articulate the amount of your money damages. 

We may need two experts:  one to explain to the jury what the conflict is and why the rule is there.  And a second expert to prove the damages in your case.   

Legal Malpractice Experience at Burns & Jain

We have been representing victims of legal malpractice since the 1980s.  We have stood up to angry attorneys who claim they did nothing wrong; or that that there was no conflict of interest at all.  We have stood up to malpractice insurance companies, and their aggressive trial attorneys who refuse to even concede the perspective conflict of interest. 

We have the experience in representing victims of lawyer conflict of interest.

Call us for a free consultation.