Legal malpractice occurs when an attorney fails to provide their client with the standard of care that a reasonable attorney would in a similar situation. One type of legal malpractice is a conflict of interest, which arises when a lawyer represents multiple clients, and their interests clash. In Ohio, lawyers are bound by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern their conduct.
Rule 1.7 outlines the regulations concerning conflicts of interest. According to this rule, a lawyer cannot represent a client if the representation would directly oppose another client’s interests or if there is a substantial risk that the representation would be significantly restricted by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client or to a third party.
An illustrative example of a conflict of interest arises when an attorney represents both parties in a divorce case. In such a scenario, Rule 1.7 would be violated as the interests of each party are directly adverse to one another. Consequently, the attorney would be incapable of providing the best representation to either party, breaching their duty to their clients.
Another instance of a conflict of interest occurs when an attorney represents a client in a personal injury case and later discovers that they had previously represented the opposing party in a related matter. This situation would breach Rule 1.9, which prohibits a lawyer from representing a client in a matter substantially related to one in which they had previously represented another client. In this case, the attorney would possess confidential information from the prior representation that could harm the current client.
Another common example of a conflict of interest arises when an attorney represents a business entity and has previously provided legal counsel to both of its partners. One day, a conflict erupts between the two partners, leading them to initiate a lawsuit against each other concerning the business. If approached by the two clients to represent them in this dispute, the attorney should recognize the conflict of interest. Having previously represented both partners and the business, the attorney cannot ethically pick sides in a dispute that involves conflicting interests. In this scenario, the attorney’s duty to each client, as well as their duty to the business, would create an untenable conflict that prevents them from providing effective legal representation.
Handling Conflict of Interest:
In Ohio, when an attorney identifies a potential conflict of interest, they are obligated to disclose it to their client and obtain the client’s informed consent before proceeding with representation. Moreover, the attorney must provide the client with a written explanation of the potential conflict and the associated risks. This empowers the client to make an informed decision about whether to proceed with the representation or seek alternative legal counsel.
Failure to disclose a conflict of interest and proceeding with representation can result in legal malpractice liability. This could entail the lawyer being held accountable for any damages sustained by the client due to the conflict. Additionally, the attorney may face disciplinary action by the Ohio Supreme Court, which possesses the authority to revoke or suspend a lawyer’s license to practice law.
Legal malpractice stemming from conflicts of interest is a significant concern in Ohio. Lawyers are obligated to reveal any potential conflicts of interest to their clients and secure their informed consent before proceeding with representation. Neglecting this duty could lead to legal malpractice claims and disciplinary action by the Ohio Supreme Court. Clients must be aware of their rights and the potential risks associated with being represented by an attorney with a conflict of interest. If clients have concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest, seeking advice from another attorney is advisable.
Explore our other Blog Post on Legal Malpractice: Legal Malpractice Explained: Know Your Rights as a Client
Additional Resource: For a comprehensive understanding of lawyer ethics and discipline, visit the Ohio State Bar Association’s guide on filing an ethics complaint.