Conflict of interest is a very serious subject for attorneys; it is a very serious subject for paralegals, as well. Unfortunately, problems can sometimes occur if a paralegal is not aware that she is bound by the same regulations as an attorney– including the regulations surrounding this subject. It is very important for a paralegal to know the facts, so that she will be much less likely to make these mistakes.
For an attorney, conflict of interest is the term that is usually used in reference to representing two or more opposing parties in any legal proceeding. An example would be representing both the husband and the wife in a divorce case, or both the buyer and the seller in a property transaction. While a paralegal is not in the role of representing a client in a proceeding, there are a few ways in which conflict of interest can occur.
One mistake a paralegal can make is conflict of interest when working for more than one attorney. Sometimes this occurs within one law firm; in other instances it can happen if the paralegal is working for more than one law firm. Although it is not usually done intentionally, the problem can occur if she is working for two or more different attorneys who are representing the opposing parties. The primary reason for such strict regulations against conflict of interest is that it is assumed unfair for the attorney, the paralegal, or anyone else who is working on a case on the behalf of one client to have access to the confidential information of the other client.
Although this problem can occur within a single law firm, it is even more important that a paralegal make certain to avoid it if she is working for more than one firm. The easiest way to go about this is to simply inform the attorney that she cannot assist with a case because it would be conflict of interest. It is imperative that the paralegal who finds herself in this situation not discuss one supervising attorney’s case with another attorney.
For a paralegal who elects to work by freelancing, it is of the utmost importance to keep this in mind at all times. Not only can a paralegal who either willingly or unintentionally makes this mistake face losing her legal capacity to practice, the attorney who has knowledge of this can also lose his license if he either promotes or allows it.
The specifics regarding conflict of interest are not very difficult to understand; and, with the facts in hand, the regulations surrounding this subject are also not very difficult to adhere to. Even though conflict of interest is one of the most serious breaches of professional conduct, and can result in severe penalties, the problem would not occur as frequently if every paralegal is knowledgeable about the facts. This does not simply mean the facts about this particular subject, but also that most regulations which an attorney is bound to adhere to are equally applicable to paralegals.