Attorneys must always act in the best interests of their clients. If the attorney has a conflict of interest, the attorney must at least admit the conflict and might want to refer the client to a colleague. Unfortunately finding those conflicts isn’t always easy. Sometimes relationships are obscure or related to cases you’ve long since forgotten about, which is why a robust conflict checking system is imperative to a legal practice. Modern legal software streamlines the process, but does it do enough?
Someone comes into your office wanting to file a damage suit against a company. You own stock in the company so you refer the client to another lawyer, reasoning you couldn’t represent the client’s interests ethically. Easy, right? Another client comes in on a different matter and you see no conflict so agree to representation. You end up losing the case and the client claims it’s because his brother was a witness on the opposing side in a case you handled years ago. You don’t even remember the case, but that isn’t going to help you when your angry client files ethics charges with your bar association.
The only way you could have known would have been to go through every case you’ve ever handled and look through every name associated with each case. That doesn’t have to occupy your time — that’s what clerks and paralegals are for — but it’s still a huge investment in hours. Even if you keep a central list, it is exhausting to go through it on every matter.
Many of the earliest billing software for attorneys included contact list management because it was an easy feature to add. It wasn’t long before developers added a simple search that allowed attorneys to compare each name associated with a matter with their contact lists to find any conflicts. Conflict checks that could take hours now took seconds.
Today most law practice management software still offers this kind of conflict checking. As long as you are sure to add every name associated with a case to your contact list, then you can be comfortable that the conflicts will be caught. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell you which case a name was associated with or what the person’s role in that case was. Today’s attorneys need something new.
You don’t necessarily need detailed contact information for every person associated with a matter. All you need is a name and a relationship. A matter-based list is a quick inventory of everyone associated with a case: clients, witnesses, judges, spouses and so on. This allows you to not only track everyone associated with a case but to also see how this person was involved.
Conflict checks are just as easy using this more advanced method but now you get more information. You can report any past association with a client or other party, and judge for yourself how serious the conflict is if any. As of this writing, CosmoLex is the only law office billing program we know of that offers this level of detail on conflict checks.
Conflict checking not only helps you defend against ethics complains but can also save you money. Most malpractice insurance companies offer premium discounts to law firms that implement a conflict checking system.
If you don’t have a conflict checking method in place, or if you have an antiquated system, then try CosmoLex now!