Trusted And Experienced
Maryland Client Advocates Since 1950

When does an attorney have a conflict of interest?

The relationship between an attorney and their client is supposed to be sacrosanct. Usually, that’s true. But, what happens if an attorney’s loyalties – for whatever reason – are divided between you and someone else?

That’s called a conflict of interest, and it’s the kind of problem that can easily lead to a claim of legal malpractice.

How do conflicts of interest happen?

Generally speaking, attorneys are expected to adhere to a strict code of ethics that governs their behavior. While a few exceptions do apply, attorneys are prohibited from representing a client whenever:

  • ● Representation of one client is directly adverse to the representation of another. For example, one attorney cannot represent both spouses in a divorce, even when the divorce is fairly amicable because the spouses are opposing parties. Similarly, one attorney couldn’t represent two parties in a contract negotiation because they cannot advocate for one party’s interests without acting against the other party’s interests.
  • ● The attorney cannot (or simply will not) provide vigorous representation for a given client because they have obligations or personal interests that run counter to the client’s needs or goals. For example, if someone wants to sue a company for discrimination and the company in question is owned by the attorney’s brother, that would likely affect their ability to provide strong representation for the client.

Most attorneys are scrupulous about adhering to this rule and want to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest – but “most” does not equal “all.” It’s entirely possible that you could find out about a conflict of interest that your attorney never mentioned after a case is over.

The question you have to ask next is whether or not the attorney’s conflict of interest may have negatively affected the outcome of your case. That’s seldom easy for someone to do on their own. If you believe that you’ve been the victim of legal malpractice, you have every right to ask questions – and seek redress in court.