Category Archives: Conflicts

Sign, Sign, Everywhere Assign

Professionals owe a duty to their clients to satisfy the standard of care commonly exhibited by others within their profession. Consequently, privity is often required to maintain a malpractice claim; i.e. it is often the client with the exclusive right to sue her professional. This narrow application of standing assumes, however, that clients have retained their exclusive right to sue. In fact, as with many torts, clients may freely assign their right to file malpractice actions to third parties, even those that are adverse to the client in the underlying litigation.

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SEC Big 4 Settlement: CPA is Too Close to the Client

Eager young accountants - all professionals, really - often set high goals, but the most common endgame for most is to become a “rainmaker.” Those who build significant relationships and turn leads to a regular stream of business are often in a position to excel professionally. While perceived expertise in a particular field is a must, it is often the relationships that set these partners apart. But when does a relationship become so familiar that a CPA may lose his independence? The SEC recently weighed in on that topic in announcing its recent settlement with Ernst & Young.

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Merging into a Conflict

It seems the law firm mergers are on the rise. 2015 was considered a “record year” for US law firm combinations. This merger-happy world has brought on a list of potential ethical questions. One of those issues was recently addressed in the case Victorinox AG v. The BF System Inc., 13 Civ. 4534, in the Southern District of New York.

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Case Evaluation: Attorney & Accountant Conflicts

Professionals strive to develop a reputation within a particular field. The real success stories involve those who are known as the go-to professional for one or more situations. A problem with such success is that it may increase the risk of potential conflicts. If all clients seek the same professional for Issue X, there are bound to be conflicts down the road. In a recent case in the Southern District of Florida, one company alleged that its accountants and lawyers violated their professional duties when they provided proprietary information to a competitor.

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Potential Conflicts for Summer Hires?

Many law firms employ law clerks, or hire summer associates. The former are often current law students, while the latter are almost always current law students. There are benefits to both the firm and the student in these situations; the student gains real-world legal experience and an opportunity to work alongside experienced attorneys, while the firm gets capable and often short-term employees. Many firms use these experiences as a way of determining future hiring, as a sort of “trial run” used to assess whether any of the clerks or associate could fit in well at the firm after graduating. It’s a practice that is as widespread as it is common.

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Advance Conflict Waiver = Unenforceable

Even the most experienced of professionals cannot predict the future. So, as a risk prevention measure, many of us turn to the next best thing by agreeing to clear contractual terms with our clients so as to eliminate confusion down the road. We spell out the terms and scope of our engagement and we identify the client’s responsibilities in an effort to avoid problems before they arise. We attempt to reach agreements today that may impact us tomorrow. According to the ABA, conflicts of interest are one of the most common legal malpractice claims so some attorneys may be tempted to seek a waiver of future conflicts in their engagement letters. This practice does not work. Consider for example the following case out of California.

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What’s Adverse? Conflicting Clients Considered

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct prevent lawyers from representing conflicting clients. A conflict of interest may arise when the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client. Just how far the requirement of “directly adverse” may extend was recently addressed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in an interesting case involving IP litigation. While one inventor retained Firm to represent him on screwless eyeglass hinges another inventor had already retained Firm to secure a related patent in the screwless eyeglass market. Read on to see who got screwed.

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