People who find themselves facing criminal charges because of something they allegedly did involving their job are often relieved when their boss or maybe the business says they’ll hire and pay for a criminal defense attorney for them. The same is true for people who are arrested along with a friend or acquaintance. If that other person has more money, they may suggest hiring an attorney to represent them together.
These are just two scenarios in which you might find yourself in. If you don’t have the financial resources for a defense attorney and are looking at potentially having to rely on an overworked, underpaid public defender, it can feel like a godsend. But is it? You need to ensure that your attorney has no conflict of interest – and so do they.
What is required if an attorney is being paid by a third party?
Under the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rule of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer can’t accept payment from a third party for representing a client unless they have that client’s informed consent and “there is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship.”
Further, the attorney-client confidentiality still applies. That means the attorney can’t discuss their conversations or provide privileged information to the person who’s paying them – at least without consent.
There can’t be a concurrent conflict of interest
What about an attorney representing two or more clients in the same case? Again, informed written consent by both clients is required. “Concurrent conflict of interest” must be avoided. An attorney must reasonably believe that they can “provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client.”
Further, an attorney can’t throw one client under the bus to protect the one who’s paying them. According to ABA rules, concurrent representation can’t “involve the assertion of a claim by one client against another client represented by the lawyer in the same litigation or other proceeding….”
You can see why, as tempting as it may be, it’s typically best not to let someone else retain an attorney for you if they’re at all involved in the offense with which you’re charged. If you believe that you didn’t get justice because your attorney was serving the interests of the person paying the bills rather than your interests, it’s wise to determine whether you have a case of legal malpractice.