Lawyers are not supposed to represent a potential client unless they can devote their full attention, and loyalty, to that client. Their personal and professional interest must be consistent with the client’s interest, otherwise they may have a “conflict” of interest.
Typical conflicts include situations where the lawyer has represented the opponent before or even currently, maybe even the same case — like if the lawyer used to work for the firm for the defendant, then gets hired by the opponent. For a larger firm, with more lawyers and clients, maybe offices in many cities or countries, it can get complicated: Firms are supposed to screen for conflicts, but names change, lawyers get lazy, and so on, so sometimes conflicts slip through. With the right precautions, it might be possible to “screen” out the people with a conflict to avoid disqualification, but the risk is that the current lawyers might know confidential information from the old client that, under their obligation to the new client, they might be tempted to release, improperly. So the problem with conflicts isn’t just the loyalty of the lawyer but the sanctity of privileged information. Continue reading