11.2 The Basics
Lawyers must understand how to recognize conflicts of interest, how to prevent them from occurring, and what might happen if they do occur.
In addition to harming your reputation, failing to recognize a conflict of interest can:
- Lead to complaints and disciplinary action against you by the LSA.
- Lead to civil liability for malpractice (even absent liability, defending such a claim takes time and costs money).
- Lead to being removed as the solicitor of record by a court or tribunal.
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 their frequency and the cost to resolve them.
The Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association (ALIA) indicates that for the period of 2015 and 2016, conflicts were the fourth most frequent cause of loss for Alberta lawyers.
Most of the principles underlying resources on conflicts of interest are similar across Canada—but you should always check before using resources from other jurisdictions as there may be differences in the rules applicable to conflicts of interest. Alberta’s Code of Conduct rules on conflicts are significantly different from the Model Code and special attention is required when considering conflict of interest issues and comparing Alberta’s rules to those of other jurisdictions.
However, materials from other law societies can be helpful as long as you look at the Alberta rules to ascertain how similar they are to the rules on which the materials are based. For example, LAWPRO (the Lawyer’s Professional Indemnity Corporation in Ontario) operates Practice Pro, a risk management and practice management resource. If you visit Practice Pro’s website you will find articles and checklists on specific types of situations, including conflicts of interest. Practice Pro Article: Managing Conflict of Interest Situations.