Any law firm’s goal should be to avoid conflicts. That starts with detecting them, and today, most law firms have relatively robust conflicts-checking systems in place and in regular use. It’s fairly straightforward to deploy software that will keep a record of clients and permit searches to detect conflicts, or potential conflicts, when a new matter arises. But like all software, its output is only as good as the information you input. Some supplements are fairly easy, and you may already be doing them. Entering multiple variations, and spellings, even mis-spellings, of client names will increase the accuracy of your system. But recent conflict cases suggest that law firms should also be considering more than just the parties when entering client conflict data. A robust client conflicts system should give you a clear picture of your clients and their businesses, including subsidiaries, parents, affiliates, and potentially even other parties with whom they do business or compete.
Consider an example. If your current conflicts system does not include names of client subsidiaries, when you check party names for a new matter where the client would be adverse to a client’s subsidiary, the system won’t alert you to anything. And it’s true that conflicts are not always imputed from subsidiary to parent. But sometimes they are: if a subsidiary uses the same internal counsel, or shares confidential information, or otherwise looks and acts the same as the parent for legal matters, this should set off alarms about the potential conflict for your firm. So taking in a new matter for a client whose interests may be adverse to one of your current client’s subsidiaries is a potential problem. If the current design of your current conflicts-checking system, or the current implementation of it, would not signal this issue, you need to make it more robust.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to examine your current system to determine potential weak spots, and to fix them.More