A conflict of interest is a concept that exists in everyday life, but is something very specific when dealing with attorney’s Rules of Professional Conduct. In North Carolina, conflicts of interest are covered by Rules 1.7 & 1.8. Broadly speaking, an attorney may not represent a client if that representation would force the attorney to represent both sides to a dispute or negotiation.
The most important thing to know is that if your attorney obtains information from you, he or she may not use that information against you. He or she may not use that information on behalf of another client either. It is, however, not a conflict of interest for an attorney to use information you gave him or her to file a lawsuit against you for a dispute you would have with your lawyer.
Waivable Conflict of Interest
Some conflicts are waivable. Your attorney may not require that you waive a conflict merely to provide him or her a new business opportunity. For example, you may waive the conflict when you and your partner are being sued together for convenience. There is almost always a conflict of interest between business partners. It may be cheaper and easier to have just one attorney. You may not, however, waive the conflict if your partner is suing you.
What about potential clients that never hired the attorney? During a consultation, you give up a lot of information to the attorney. Can disclosure be used against you? No. Information you provide an attorney cannot be used against you. However, an attorney may not be conflicted from representing a party against you if you received a free consultation and gave minimal information during it.
Past clients receive certain protection; however, there are limits here too. An attorney may not use information gained during the representation of past clients against them. However, if the representation was limited in scope, the attorney could potentially represent a client against a past client. Whether or not an attorney may represent someone against you depends largely on what information was gained in the prior representation.
Hopefully this blog has increased your understanding of what a conflict of interest is and isn’t. For more answers to frequently asked questions, check out Answers from Inside, available on Amazon.