Thursday, July 22, 2010

Law Firm Conflicts in the News

Several law firm conflicts making news this month:
  • Baker Botts faces malpractice suit due to alleged conflict -- In this case, a client is suing for malpractice because the firm represented a business competitor. At one point, the plaintiff alleges, the companies were pursuing similar patents using the same law firm. (The firm defends itself, noting that different lawyers were working for each client.)
  • Lawyers disqualified from representing plaintiffs in suit against Target -- the firm's past contact with a Target executive and relating concerns about communication of confidential information created a clear need for a clean slate according to the judge: “In the instant case, the circumstances warrant disqualification because conduct has occurred that taints these proceedings and, if left unremedied, potentially undermines public confidence in the legal profession...There is a strong likelihood that the Halunen firm’s repeated contacts with Doe intruded upon Target’s right to confidentiality and privilege.”
  • Special master removed due to conflicts allegations -- Interestingly, in this case the special master stepped aside before a disqualification motion was filed. While those bringing the allegations argued the conflicts were legitimate, the special master removed herself before a judge could rule on the matter. She denied any conflicts, but did not want to serve in a context where one side expresses a complete lack of confidence in her ability to act appropriately.
  • Firm disqualified over "appearance" of conflict -- A six person law firm was removed because one member of the firm was a member of a school board subject to a discrimination suit brought by a client they represented. Given the small size of the firm and nature of confidential information possessed by the lawyer, the judge ruled that there was a "non-waivable conflict of interest that was imputed" to the entire firm and disqualified it.
  • Conflicts scuttle Kilpatrick-Townsend merger -- [via Legal Ethics Blog] -- “Townsend veteran partner Paul Vapnek heard late last week from another partner that the talks were off, he said, because of irreconcilable conflicts with a major Kilpatrick client. 'We had just a bunch of conflicts with that client and the client wasn't willing to waive them,' Vapnek said. 'That kind of put the kibosh on it.'”

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