A conflict of interest is a situation in which two or more duties or interests come into conflict. The general rule is that an attorney should not represent a client if doing so would be directly adverse to another client or if there is a significant risk that the attorney's ability to consider, recommend, or carry out an appropriate course of action for the client would be materially limited as a result of the attorney's other responsibilities or interests.
The kinds of situations that can give rise to conflicts of interests include:
Simultaneous representation of two or more parties in a legal proceeding (e.g., if an attorney represents both parties to a divorce).
A lawyer is approached by a new client whose interests are "materially adverse" to the interests of the lawyer's former client (e.g., an attorney may
not bring a product liability lawsuit against a company that the attorney defended in an employment discrimination lawsuit one year ago).
Making the attorney a beneficiary of an instrument or document prepared for the client (e.g., an attorney preparing a will for a client that leaves the attorney or member of the attorney's family a gift).
Issue conflicts (e.g., where an attorney represents a plaintiff and a defendant in separate slip and fall actions on icy sidewalks).
Having two related attorneys or paralegals involved in the representation of adverse parties in a legal proceeding (e.g., a man representing the plaintiff, while his wife represents the defendant in the same lawsuit).