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 malpractice 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 were the fourth most common complaint, 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 further 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 LSBC establishes the rules regarding conflicts of interest for the profession within BC. Violation of these rules can lead to censure by the LSBC in various forms, including a discipline citation. Discipline citations encompass breach of the Legal Profession Act or the Rules as well as professional misconduct and/or conduct unbecoming. Information received from any source that indicates a lawyer may have committed a “discipline violation” must be treated as a complaint under the Rules (Rule 3-4(2)) and once in the complaint stream, the lawyer may find him or herself dealing with one or a variety of regulatory committees, including the Discipline Committee.