Conflicts of Interest
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.