11.25 Operating a Conflict Management System
You must maintain an awareness of conflicts throughout the life of a file. You should perform a conflicts analysis at the time the potential client seeks to engage your firm, and perform follow-up searches after the first meeting when you compile salient information. Conflicts must be monitored throughout the file, every time new parties enter the mix. For example, midway through a transaction your client informs you that she is getting married. Add the fiancé to the conflicts checking system and run a fresh search.
In another example, you act for a wife in a divorce matter and as the matter progresses, you learn that the husband has a new girlfriend whom the wife alleges mistreats the children. She wants you to apply for an order requiring that the husband not leave the children alone with his new girlfriend. You learn that another lawyer in your firm represents the girlfriend in her own divorce action. This is an example of a situation that may result in a conflict--your client wants you to argue that the girlfriend is unfit while your colleague is arguing that she is a fit mother in her own child custody case.
Law firms are cautioned against gathering too much information about potential clients—people who perhaps request an initial consultation. Law firms fall within the definition of “organizations” per the Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”). PIPA provides that organizations must only collect personal information for purposes that are reasonable for carrying out a specific purpose. There is a fine line between gathering enough information to perform an initial conflicts check and gathering too much information.
Law firms should also be aware that once you collect personal information about someone, you are obligated to protect it and ultimately destroy it in a manner that preserves confidentiality.