The Rules of Professional Responsibility generally prevents lawyers from representing two clients who have competing interests or may divide an attorney’s loyalty. The Rules extend to former clients so that a lawyer who represented person X may not subsequently represent person Y in a suit against person X. The purpose of an attorney/client conflict check is to ensure that an attorney’s commitment to a client’s matter will not interfere with a commitment to any other person.
Every lawyer or law firm, no matter how small or how limited the practice area, must have a conflicts database and a procedure to check and log a conflict review. Firms without a reliable attorney/client conflict check system ignore a systematic risk in their operation.
Having a strong system not only identifies potential conflicts but also reduces your risk of negligence and helps lower your firm’s professional liability insurance rates.There is no question that a law firm conflict of interest system must adequately detect, identify and address any potential conflict. While the basics of an attorney-client conflict checking system might appear simple, in practice it is fairly challenging to develop a “bulletproof” system. A system that properly functions must be up to date at all times, easy for the firm to use at the time of case intake, and readily identify potential conflicts of interest.
Suppose, for example; you represented John Smith in a divorce case. Laura Smith was the opposing party (John’s spouse) and “Kyle Cramer” was a witness for Laura. After two years, Kyle Cramer” seeks your legal help. How would you know that representing Kyle Cramer might be a potential conflict without a comprehensive computerized database?
If you are entertaining the idea of checking conflicts with a manual system or relying on your memory or just doing a search against your entire address book — think again! We are way beyond the days where it’s okay to have a manual conflict checking system. Every practicing lawyer should have a computerized attorney/client conflict check tool for identifying conflicts arising from clients and transactions.
CosmoLex practice management software has a built-in comprehensive, conflict-checker system. All you need to do is use the programs and follow the three simple steps below. You’ll have a reliable, integrated system and no redundant data entry.
Step 1: Maintain your comprehensive, master contact database within CosmoLex itself. (“Maintain” means “keep it current”!)
Step 2: For current and past clients, specify key relationships (e.g. link clients with other contact names and specify relationships such as spouse, adversary, adversary’s counsel, key witness, etc.) in their contact record.
Step 3: Before taking on a new client, run a conflict search. Save a copy of the search report in the case file.