Conflicts of Interest: keep it simple, trust your gut.

Conflicts are tough.

But not so tough that you shouldn’t trust your gut.

As most of you know, I provide lawyers with guidance on the Rules of Professional Conduct.   Over the past few years, I’ve averaged 1100 inquiries per year.  About 40% of those have been on conflicts of interest.

Inquiries on conflicts share one thing in common: lawyers almost always know the answer before they contact me.  Why?  Because if you feel the need to call me, text me, or e-mail me about a conflict, you probably have one.

Although my job is to know the rules inside & out, I don’t like getting lost in them. After all, they were written by lawyers.  I’ve been at this job for about 20 years.  To me, the rules are a perfect example of lawyers being lawyers and making the simple complicated.

It’s very simple.  As a lawyer, you owe duties to your client.  If any other duty or allegiance tugs you in a direction other than that which your client is headed, you might have a conflict. The “any other duty or allegiance” could be to another client, a former client, the court, a third person, or yourself.  The one that seems to arise most often: the duty to keep confidential any & all information relating to the representation of a former client.

I try to simply things.  Some of you think I’m overly simplistic.

Guilty as charged.

But, sometimes, simplification leads to realization.

Look back a few paragraphs. I used the word “tugs” for a reason.  The reason is because I think we’re all familiar with the game that, at least when I was a kid, was called “tug-o-war.”  As I blogged here, if you ever feel like the piece of red tape, you likely have a conflict.

Or, as those of you who were in Montreal know, if this picture reminds you of a tension you feel between duties to your client and duties to someone/something else, you probably have a conflict:


For those of you upset that this blog didn’t contain a link to, or quote from, a single rule or case, fine.  My next few posts on conflicts will be more lawyerly.

Or not.

For now, let’s keep it non-lawyerly simple: if ANYTHING ever tugs you, however slightly, in a different direction than that in which your client is headed, stop and consider whether you have a conflict. Then, if you think you do, trust your gut.

And, after that, call me.  I can count on less than one hand the number of times that I’ve said “no you don’t” when someone has called me to say “mike, I think I have a conflict.”





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