Attorneys, like practitioners of other professions, abide by a set of ethical rules. Lawyers typically owe a duty of loyalty to their clients, and they cannot represent a client if there is a conflict of interest. Lawyers in Ohio and elsewhere need to be careful of specific conflicts of interest that often arise in civil litigation.
Representing multiple clients
Representing multiple clients in civil litigation can present a conflict of interest. It is ordinarily permissible for a lawyer to represent multiple plaintiffs or multiple defendants in litigation, especially if clients provide informed consent. However, lawyers cannot represent a client who pursues a claim against another client because this presents a risk that the representation will be restricted.
Even if a lawyer formerly represented a client in the same or a substantially similar matter as the current civil case, this can create a conflict of interest. Attorneys may learn information protected by the attorney’s ethical obligations during a prior representation, and lawyers cannot use such knowledge to the advantage of a client against the former client unless there has been informed consent agreed to in writing.
Even if the particular lawyer involved in a prior representation is not participating in a case, that conflict can be imputed onto the firm that employs the attorney. Generally, a firm will be disqualified if any attorney at a firm will be disqualified because of a conflict. However, there may be ways to screen the conflicted lawyer so that a firm can continue representing a client.
A conflict of interest might also exist whenever there is substantial limitation on the representation because of any reason. For instance, family interests, business interests and other kinds of influences can conflict a lawyer out of a representation. An experienced lawyer should know when a situation may present a conflict that requires a waiver or withdrawal from a representation.
When a client is considering whether to hire an attorney to represent them during civil litigation, these are important issues. A client should be able to trust their attorney with all matters related to the case.