In my earlier post Reduce Professional Liability Risk, I outlined how an effective conflict checker mitigates professional liability risk and how modern computer programs automate this tedious, but very necessary task.
Since then, I received many enquires about how to actually get a conflict checking system in place. Most first time users of Easy TimeBill program face the same “how to” dilemma.
The core of a reliable conflict checking system is your database of names; names of clients, key witnesses, adversary (the spouse in a divorce case), opposing counsel, etc. To build a database, you will need to integrate your current client information and contacts from closed cases. Just how should you go about adding all the pertinent details from your inactive case files?
One obvious choice is to add prior client information as individual clients. It would seem to make sense that if ALL past and current clients are in the database, you would have a reliable means to check for conflicts of interest. However, I do not like this approach because it clutters your current client database with closed case files.
A better method to inventory inactive case related contacts is to:
- Create one "fictitious client,"" e.g. your own law firm.
- Enter all prior clients and their related contacts in the address book as a type of "friend."
- Go back to the fictitious client and assign all the newly created “friends,” designating the relationship type as “former client.”
Using the above method allows you to add former client case related names and details to your new conflict checker database, without commingling old and current cases. You will see only current clients as active clients, yet you will have a robust conflict of interest checking system because your database will contain current and prior client contacts.
The prevailing common law doctrine holds that if one lawyer in a law firm is disqualified from representing a client because of the former client conflict of interest principle, every lawyer in that firm is also disqualified. Describing the varying practices of firms’ conflict-checking procedures, and confirming that most firms rely on some computerized systems. Lawyers and Paralegals should use a conflict checking system to screen for conflicts. Developing “bulletproof” conflicts checking systems is a necessary function of good law firm management. Hopefully this article has given everyone some ideas on how to design or improve current conflict checking system. While this may seem to be trivial, one cannot overstate the possible negative consequences of learning that one has a direct conflict at a critical stage in the representation of the client.