Clients expect that their attorney will be on their side, looking out for their best interests. After all, that is one of the fundamental reasons for working with a lawyer: To have a knowledgeable advocate working to obtain a favorable outcome. But sometimes, it turns out that a lawyer does not have your best interests in mind at all—for example, when a lawyer has a conflict of interests.
When a lawyer has a conflict of interests, it can negatively affect his ability to handle your case. It can also indicate legal malpractice. Legal malpractice can affect individual clients as well as large corporations, and its repercussions are far-reaching. In one of the country’s largest-ever examples, one law firm that committed malpractice by having a conflict of interests was ordered to repay its victims to the tune of $100 million.
A $100 million conflict of interests
Nearly a decade ago, one of the most prominent law firms in the United States was surreptitiously representing both sides of the same transaction. Two men who were forming a company together hired the law firm to assist them with some documents. But unknown to one man, the law firm was going behind his back to help the other, who was a previous client. The law firm was actually using the first man’s own funds and assets to benefit the second man financially. Because the law firm had access to the first man’s sensitive financial information, they would use it to surreptitiously help their former client.
The victim, stunned, took the law firm to court. In late 2010, a jury ruled against the unscrupulous lawyers, finding them guilty of legal malpractice. The jury awarded verdicts totaling $100 million to the plaintiff. It remains one of the largest and most egregious cases of legal malpractice in the U.S.
When lawyers have conflicting interests
There are certain ethics by which lawyers must abide that prohibit them from having conflicts of interest. This means that they are not supposed to work simultaneously with two opposing parties. The assumption is that a lawyer who is being paid by two parties that have diametric interests would not be able to advocate for them in a fair manner. Clients who are the victims of malpractice do have legal options that could lead to justice for the unscrupulous attorney, compensation for their damages and another chance at a fair court outcome.