What are "conflicts" and why do firms run them?

Fast & Furious Sep 10, 2021

In a very tiny nutshell*, conflicts rules dictate that a lawyer can’t represent a client whose interests are adverse to a current client or former client.

Law firms can have a lot of lawyers, and conflicts rules apply to each and every one of them. That's a lot of potential conflicts, and a lot of ways to get in trouble.

So, any time a firm brings in a new attorney, the firm needs to run that attorney's potential conflicts against aaaallll the other potential conflicts at the firm. If there's a hit, the firm needs to investigate whether it's a conflict that a current or former client could, or would, waive. More often than not, because it's a small world, a conflict flag does go up, but it's waived before the new hire ever knows about it. Occasionally though, a big enough conflict arises that the firm can't hire the new person. Which sucks.

*In a slightly bigger nutshell, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct state:

[A] lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.


Julia DiPrete

Biglaw survivor. Former Assistant Dean of the Duke Law Career Center. Currently exploring the magical world of legal recruiting. Yeah, I've pretty much seen it all. And I love to write.

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