Conflicts: The Basics

Understanding how to recognize conflicts of interest, how to prevent them from occurring, and what might happen if they do occur, is critical. While the most common negligence claim against lawyers relates to failure to properly communicate with clients, conflicts of interest are a major concern both in terms of frequency of claims and cost to process.
A study published by the American Bar Association indicated that for the period 1999-2004, conflicts of interest were the fourth most common reason for complaints to the Bar Association, following communication and relationship issues, time management issues, and failure to know the law. A further study indicated that conflicts of interest are the cause of one third of claims between $1 million and $20 million, and are the cause of 18% of claims over $20 million. A study based on Ontario statistics found conflict of interest to be the 5th leading cause of malpractice claims (6.4% of all claims, and 9.7% of attendant costs).
As the regulatory body of the legal profession, the Law Society of New Brunswick establishes rules regarding conflicts of interest for the profession within New Brunswick. Violation of these rules can lead to complaints being filed and subsequent investigations by the Registrar of Complaints that could result in referrals to the Complaints Committee or the Discipline Committee.