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When might a conflict of interest constitute legal malpractice?

When you hire an attorney to represent you in New York, you may have certain expectations as far as this party’s performance. Your lawyer owes you a particular duty of care in exchange for taking on your case. Part of that duty of care involves staying loyal to you and exercising independent judgment when working on your case.

Per the American Bar Association, a lawyer has a legal obligation to tell you about any personal beliefs, existing cases or similar matters that may impact his or her ability to dedicate his or herself to your case. If your attorney has a conflict of interest that prevents him or her from representing you properly and does not tell you about it, you may be able to hold your lawyer accountable.

Recognizing possible conflicts of interest

An attorney should avoid taking your case if he or she is already representing someone who has interests that are in opposition to your own. Similarly, a lawyer should refuse your case if he or she already represented someone in the past whose interests were in stark contrast to your own. If your attorney acts in a manner that places his or her own interests above yours, this may also constitute legal malpractice, depending on circumstances.

Understanding “informed consent”

Your lawyer may be able to avoid a legal malpractice suit by demonstrating that he or she gave you informed consent about the conflict of interest. Giving informed consent involves not only explaining the conflict of interest but also explaining how it might cause you harm or hurt your case.

Conflict of interest matters are often complex. If your lawyer breaches the duty he or she owes you, your attorney may face legal repercussions in the aftermath.