Sometimes new, former or existing clients wonder why attorneys need to run a conflict check. Conflict checks help prevent situations where too much information may be known about opposing parties who may have been clients of the firm or were associated with clients of the firm; that information could present an unfair advantage to one party or to multiple parties. We attempt to screen all potential clients for known conflicts, but some conflicts may not present themselves right away. Here are some examples of cases where there can be conflicts of interest and where conflicts don’t exist:
No Conflict of Interest:
I have been fortunate to have been on the receiving end of one of the best compliments a family law lawyer can receive on at least 6 occasions over the years of my practice at Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. On those occasions, my client’s ex-spouse has indicated that he or she has remarried, but that marriage has not worked out and my former client’s ex-spouse now wants me to represent him or her against their new spouse. The “best” wording of this request was, “You kicked my butt, now I want you to kick my husband’s butt.”
There is absolutely no conflict of interest in this situation that would disqualify me from representing the ex-spouse.
Conflict of Interest:
However, if there are outstanding issues involving the parties in Case #1, such as child custody or support, alimony payments or the failure to follow through on the equitable distribution of property, my representing the ex-spouse in the new case would require me to not represent the initial client spouse in a subsequent action against the new client ex-spouse because I have probably learned of material facts that would give the initial client an unfair advantage in the subsequent litigation between the first parties.
Conflict of Interest:
A similar situation arises where a spouse, e.g.,the husband, engages a business or estate planning attorney at the firm to handle something for him. Subsequently, three or four years later, the wife calls me or one of our attorneys to handle a divorce case against the husband. We will more than likely not take the case because in the course of representing husband, the other lawyer obtained information that would be something a third party lawyer may not be privy to and which would give Wife an unfair advantage. Even if the prior representation did not result in such information, the admonishment to “avoid the appearance of impropriety” would result in our declining the case.
No Conflict of Interest:
If the prior representation in Case #2 was further in the past, and it would appear that the information obtained was so outdated or altered that it would be of no practical benefit to the Wife, we could take on the wife as a client, especially where the husband has already obtained representation.
Additional Examples – No Conflicts of Interest:
If a former client’s sole matter was a minor traffic violation and the prior representation was completed two to four years previously, there would be little likelihood of any real conflict issues.
In some instances, both spouses have a prior relationship with the firm. In those cases, as well as some others, a potential or real conflict may be avoided by full disclosure and a signed waiver of conflict by the opposing former client.
What Happens if We Find a Conflict of Interest?
We attempt to screen our potential client’s before they schedule an appointment but sometimes we do not catch all the potential ways in which a conflict will develop. In those cases, it is our practice to stop the consultation as soon as the conflict comes to light, refund the consultation fee and if any substantive data was obtained, decline to take the other spouse on as a client should he or she contact us subsequent to the other spouse.
William G. Whittaker is a partner and family law attorney at Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. Contact William at Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. at (704) 844-1400. The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and William G. Whittaker or the law firm of Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A.
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Trusted since 1982, Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. serves clients in North Carolina and South Carolina. Located in the town of Matthews between Mecklenburg and Union Counties in North Carolina, we’ve proudly provided legal services throughout Charlotte, Matthews, Mint Hill, Stallings, Indian Trail, Monroe, Marvin, Wesley Chapel, Weddington, Waxhaw, the Ballantyne area, and other surrounding communities in the Greater Charlotte region. Our clients range from national corporations and major banking institutions to individuals and local companies. We provide the best possible legal representation and advocacy, upholding our main client-focused cornerstones: Helping. Planning. Protecting.