You hire a lawyer and take your case to court. You feel good about it from the very beginning, and your lawyer seems positive. However, you then lose the case, and you get the sense that they did not do all they could to help you. At times, it even seemed like they were working against you or trying to sabotage the case.
Then you find out that your lawyer had a conflict of interest. And suddenly everything clicks. They were never really on your side from the beginning.
For instance, perhaps you want to sue a company for selling you a dangerous product. It did not have proper safety equipment and there were no instructions on how to use it safely. You got injured while using it, and you know they're to blame.
What you discover is that your lawyer actually financed the company when it was a start-up. The owner is a close friend from college. In fact, the lawyer still has an ownership percentage in the company, though they don't advertise it. Clearly, they were trying to protect their friend and the company, not you, the client.
Or, maybe a surgeon made a mistake while you were in the hospital, and you suffered serious and life-altering harm. Perhaps it was a wrong-site amputation or something along those lines. You think it's clear that you'll win, but it turns out that the lawyer is married to someone who is on the board of directors at the hospital.
These are fairly straightforward examples, and things can get far more complex than that, but they do help to show you just how detrimental a conflict of interest can be.
Is it malpractice?
Did the lawyer commit malpractice by taking your case even though they knew the conflict existed, even if you had no idea? Perhaps. The main four elements to consider are:
- The lawyer had a legal duty to give you skillful, competent representation based on the contract you signed.
- The lawyer did not do so, perhaps through mistakes or by design.
- The lawyer's actions then caused you direct harm -- in the example above, you lost your case when you should have won.
- You suffered a significant financial loss as a result.
If it sounds like what happened to you really was malpractice, you need to know exactly what options you have. Lawyers have a responsibility to represent their clients professionally. They should disclose a conflict of interest and should not take on a case that means they cannot dutifully help a client at every turn.