Bar Counsel Notes: Conflict of Interest

Lawyer L serves as a volunteer lawyer for PTLA every week to handle tenant matters. On one such matter he handled for T, the adversary landlord (X) accused L of a conflict of interest because two years earlier a partner at L's law firm had handled a landlord/tenant matter for X. L has no knowledge or awareness of whatever earlier matter X mentioned. Does L have a conflict of interest?

No - under MRPC 1.2(d) and 6.5, because L is serving under the auspices of a non-profit organization or a court-annexed program, unless L "is aware" and has actual subjective knowledge that a representation involves a conflict of interest, the normal requirements of Rules 1.7, 1.9, 1.10 and 1.1are inapplicable. Therefore, because L had no involvement or actual awareness of his firm's earlier representation of X, he is not prohibited from handling T's matter against X. Under those two Rules, L's law partner's earlier legal service for X is not imputed to L.

*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.