what does conflict of interest mean

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A conflict of interest in your lawsuit is something to watch out for and be certain you don't get involved in.

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Conflicts of interest often arise in legal cases and their ramifications can be far-reaching. So many conditions bind attorneys and clients and they both must be careful and not create a legal conflict of interest. The American Bar Association Model Code of Professional Responsibility and Model Rules of Professional Conduct cover differing areas of situations.

Simultaneous representation is one conflict of interest. This one has little room for interpretation and is pretty well specified in what is not allowed. An attorney may not represent two clients who are adversaries in a case. The reasons are obvious in that no attorney could rationally represent both sides and do an adequate and fair job to either.

Another situation that can arise with this is an attorney representing opposing parties of differing cases. As long as both clients are advised of the situation and feel the attorney can do an adequate job of representation, then it is permissible.

The ABA Model Rules require that the client consent of attorney representation occur after full disclosure and consultation.  The client must be able to appreciate the situation and have enough information to make a reasonable decision as to whether or not the legal counsel can provide fair representation. The consent of the client must also be entirely voluntary and not given under any pressure at all, by the attorney or anyone else.

Issue conflicts can also arise as a matter of conflict of interest. This involves an attorney representing two clients in separate cases and urging a legal position of one which will have negative consequences for another. The AMA Model Rules state that such conduct is not improper unless the two cases are pending in the same court, otherwise it is considered acceptable.

Conflicts of interest can also arise in litigation involving relatives such as husband and wife in a marital dissolution  It is rather risky for any attorney to undertake such a task for the unpredictable nature and outcome of such litigation.

Successive representation is another area where attorneys need to be careful in not having a conflict of interest. What this involves is an attorney representing a client in a matter which may be adverse to that of a former client. Since there are many more attorneys and more options for most people, this issue is arising more frequently. An attorney can be disqualified for such conduct if the interests of the former and current client are really and truly adverse in nature and if the past and current matters are closely related in some way. An attorney in such a position would risk breaching confidentiality to represent the successive client.

Attorneys acting as witnesses can be another area of conflict.  Sometimes an attorney will be called upon as a witness in a case in which the attorney is acting as the advocate. To prohibit an attorney from testifying protects the  client's interest because there is the chance the testimony could harm the client's case.

So be thorough when you search for an attorney and be certain your choice is one which will not be a conflict of interest, which could jeopardize your case.
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