When you are entrusting your case to an attorney, you expect to receive advice that promotes your best interests above other, outside interests. If your lawyer does not maintain a conflict check system; however, she or he may not realize a conflict of interest exists until it is too late.
Whether you hire an attorney who has represented thousands of clients or only a few, it can be worth your time to ask about the system he or she has put into place to identify and notify clients about possible conflicts. It is not enough for attorneys to rely on only their memory or a Rolodex to make them aware of these legal hazards.
A strong conflict check system contains relevant and current information
Savvy firms manage the risk associated with these conflicts by uploading information and updating client databases regularly. They typically record this type of information in a client conflict list:
- The name of all individuals involved in a case, which includes the client, the opposing party, witnesses and other associated individuals
- The name of contacts these individuals provided, including employers, children or spouses
- The type of relationship these individuals had with the firm during the case
- The status of the case
In addition to a client conflict list, firms also generate staff conflict lists, adding names of family members, previous clients and past employers.
Before a firm or attorney agrees to represent a client, it is critical that a staff member performs a conflict check by entering the new contact’s information into the system. If this search reveals a possible conflict, it is up to the attorney to determine whether it is appropriate to represent the new client. In certain situations, the attorney may represent a new client after making the appropriate disclosure.
During your initial consultation, it is not inappropriate to ask about the conflict checks system that the firm has in place. Advocate for your interests from day one and minimize the chance you will be negatively affected by a conflict of interest in the future.