Exercising independent legal judgment requires an objective detachment from
the client’s interests. This objectivity may be compromised by financial or
personal conflicts. Conflicts of interest are usually thought of as limited to
situations in which an attorney attempts to represent parties with conflicting
interests in the same piece of litigation, such as both parties in a divorce.
Attorneys usually avoid such obvious conflicts. The more common problems are
conflicts with other clients in other matters, conflicts between clients who
seemingly have the same interests, and conflicts between the attorney’s own
interests and those of the client.
Another problem is that attorneys often identify with medical care professional
clients. They have common educational backgrounds, interests, and sometimes
even friends, especially in smaller communities. Because of this identification,
the attorney may not evaluate the physician’s legal problems objectively. This
loss of objectivity can hurt the client in many ways. The attorney may not
investigate the physician’s recitation of the facts diligently or appreciate how a
jury will view the physician’s actions. These misperceptions increase the risk of
poor legal advice. Just as physicians are cautioned about treating their close
friends and family members, so should physicians take care to ensure that
their attorneys are objective.