Managing Partner and attorney Jeff Regan explains why the law firm does a conflict check before taking any legal case. Jacksonville, Florida, and Orlando, Florida, law firm Regan Atwood handles construction law, business litigation, and real estate litigation for clients across the state.
What is a Conflict Check?
So what is a conflict check? Lawyers cannot have conflicts of interest in representing their clients because we have a fiduciary duty to the client and so you cannot represent a client whose interests will be directly adverse to that of another client that you represent.
There’s a whole set of rules under the rules of professional conduct as to how conflicts of interest work. For instance, you could represent a new client against a former client on a matter that is not substantially related to the form of representation.
That is permitted, but we could not take on one client and sue an existing client on behalf of that client. That would be an impermissible conflict of interest in an ethical violation.
Who Are the Parties in the Legal Action?
So, when a client comes to us, there are certain things that they need to consider when contacting us. First of all, we need to know who are the parties or the potential parties to their legal action?
If it’s a construction type matter, and maybe it’s the owner in this instance, who the contractor that’s doing the work is having a problem with.
We Review All Parties Involved in the Case
You probably want to look up and determine who are the primary subcontractors on the job, because we might not represent the contractor, but we could represent some of the subcontractors that might ultimately become implicated.
And typically you could get that information based on any notices to own or under the lien law you received or you can even go and look at the permits that are posted on the site. And it’ll have the names of the various contractors.
We May Have Represented a Party in Another Case
You’ll have the general contractor on there and all of the significant trades, mechanical, or HVAC, the electrical, the plumbing, all of those contractors have to pull their own permits on a job in addition to the general contractor.
And they all have to be posted on the job. And so you can get that information there too. So we need that information to run against our database of clientele that we’ve represented in the past and present.
We Check Internally at the Law Firm
And then to also circulate among all of the lawyers in the firm to say, “Do you recognize any of these parties? Do you have any conflict of interest?” Sometimes we’ve come up with what we refer to as political conflicts or personal conflicts, which are not conflicts that are necessarily prohibited by the rules of professional conduct, but we believe would be uncomfortable for us to take it on.
For instance, if a partner comes to me and says, “We don’t have a conflict, but you should know that the person that we’re looking at suing is somebody I’ve known for 30 years and I’d feel very uncomfortable suing them.”
The rules also provide that if the lawyers exercise of his or her independent professional judgment could be compromised, then that actually becomes a prohibited conflict.
Don’t Tell Us About the Case in the First Call
So, we need to step through all of that. And a lot of clients don’t understand this. As soon as they call us, they want to start describing everything they can about the details of their case. And that’s where we have to tell them,
“Do not do that because you may be telling me something that’s confidential and I’m not formally representing you yet. That’s why I need the names of the party.
What is the Dollar Amount in the Dispute?
You can tell me the approximate dollar amount you think is in dispute and the names of the parties. And then we’ll run that conflict check.
Our Paralegals Are Well Trained
Both of our paralegals are very well trained on knowing that we can’t have extensive conversations and things until we know we’ve cleared conflicts.
So, quite often we’ll have the paralegals do the initial consultation via phone for purposes of obtaining conflict of information, or conflicts of interest that we need to review.
Is It the Type of Case We Would Take?
The other thing in setting up an initial meeting, once we’ve cleared conflicts, and we have to decide whether or not it’s the type of case we would take.