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Generally speaking, does conflict of interests apply when a plaintiff wants to employ the same lawyer the defendant had employed in the past to sue the same defendant (e.g. B employs the lawyer who represented A in the past to sue A in the present?

Following from above, if there exists an conflict of interest, how long does that usually last? If the same lawyer practices multiple areas (e.g. business transaction, fraud, marriage dissolution), does conflict of interest in one area (e.g. B sues A for fraud) bar the lawyer from legally representing the same client under another area (e.g. B sues A for marriage dissolution)?

Finally, wouldn't lawyers who adheres to conflict of interest actually limiting their leads to generate profits by restricting the number of clients whom they can legally represent?

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Every U.S. jurisdiction has a least eight rules of professional conduct devoted in full or in substantial part, to spelling out what does and does not constitute a conflict of interest (these rules are adopted on a state by state basis but have a uniform numbering system and a great deal of, but not perfect, substantive agreement):

Rule 1.7 Conflict of Interest: Current Clients

Rule 1.8 Conflict of Interest: Current Clients: Specific Rules

Rule 1.9 Duties to Former Clients

Rule 1.10 Imputation of Conflicts of Interest: General Rule

Rule 1.11 Special Conflicts of Interest for Former and Current Government Officers and Employees

Rule 1.12 Former Judge, Arbitrator, Mediator or Other Third-Party Neutral

Rule 1.13 Organization as Client

Rule 1.18 Duties to Prospective Client

The primary purposes of these rules are (1) to prevent lawyers from simultaneously representing two clients who are adverse to each other in either litigation or a transaction, and (2) to prevent information obtained in confidence from former or prospective clients from being used against those clients. The rules also seek to prevent the personal interests of the lawyer from being in conflict with those of the client outside carefully delineated contractual rights of the lawyer to compensation.

These eight rules, their official commentary, advisory opinions, and case law spell out the final details of these general concepts.

Generally speaking, does conflict of interests apply when a plaintiff wants to employ the same lawyer the defendant had employed in the past to sue the same defendant (e.g. B employs the lawyer who represented A in the past to sue A in the present?

Only if confidential information obtained in representing A puts A at a disadvantage, which is something of a facts and circumstances test related to the nature of the representation.

Following from above, if there exists an conflict of interest, how long does that usually last?

Until the conflict is waived or the circumstances that make it a conflict of interest no longer exist, which depends upon the facts and circumstances.

If the same lawyer practices multiple areas (e.g. business transaction, fraud, marriage dissolution), does conflict of interest in one area (e.g. B sues A for fraud) bar the lawyer from legally representing the same client under another area (e.g. B sues A for marriage dissolution)?

Lawyers can't simultaneously represent clients who are currently adverse with respect to the matters upon which they are represented.

But, for example, it wouldn't be uncommon for one lawyer to represent a husband in a divorce, another lawyer to represent a wife in a divorce, and a third lawyer to represent both the husband and wife defending both of them simultaneously in a breach of contract lawsuit in which their interests are aligned (for example, suing a construction contractor who didn't finish work at their jointly owned house requiring that new contractor be hired to finish the job). The issue is whether there is a conflict with respect to any of the matters upon which they are represented.

In some cases, the nature of the work is such that the law firm gained no confidential information useful in future work (e.g. successively representing A and then B who are currently suing each other over a traffic accident with different lawyers, in routine real estate closings).

Finally, wouldn't lawyers who adheres to conflict of interest actually limiting their leads to generate profits by restricting the number of clients whom they can legally represent?

There is a saying that:

If a town has one lawyer, he starves. If it has two lawyers, they both get rich.

Conflicts of interest can get pretty difficult and complicated to deal within, for example, a specialized type of civil law practice in a small state like Wyoming (which has only about half a million people, and only about 3,000 lawyers, more than a third of which are out of state or have inactive practices, and who are divided among many specialities). And, in those places, the rules are interpreted as leniently as possible. It is less of an issue in a state like Colorado with five million people and perhaps 50,000 lawyers, maybe two-thirds of whom are actively practicing law in the state.

But, for the most part, lawyers and law firms structure their practices to prevent "business development" conflicts that can lead to genuine conflicts of interest down the road. Some lawyers represented only landlords and creditors in eviction and collection cases, while others represent only tenants and debtors. Some lawyers bring personal injury cases, and other lawyers defend personal injury cases.

Where conflicts of interest are a potential problem, there is an incentive to organize small law firms, so that there are fewer clients of the law firm who could potentially have conflicting interests, with large law firms historically starting with a small number of big business clients who provide much of the firm's work. Initially these big businesses were mostly railroads. These days, the big businesses are most often large financial firms like banks. When one department of a large law firm starts to have to turn away lots of work due to conflicts of interest, that department will often spin off into its own boutique law firm to avoid the burden of conflicts of interest with the large law firm's other clients.

But, since observing conflict of interest rules is not optional, and violating them can get you disbarred and sued for malpractice, everyone is on pretty much a level playing field in this regard when it comes to business development.

It is also relevant background that Rules of Professional Conduct 5.4 requires law firms to be lawyer owned, and overwhelmingly, law firms are owned by senior lawyers who work in the firm and perhaps also some retired lawyers who used to work in the firm. This greatly reduces the potential for conflicts of interest from common ownership.

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It depends

s10 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 says:

10.1 A solicitor and law practice must avoid conflicts between the duties owed to current and former clients.

10.2 A solicitor or law practice who or which is in possession of information which is confidential to a former client where that information might reasonably be concluded to be material to the matter of another client and detrimental to the interests of the former client if disclosed, must not act for the current client in that matter UNLESS—

10.2.1 the former client has given informed consent to the disclosure and use of that information, or

10.2.2 an effective information barrier has been established.

There are similar but more restrictive rules for two current clients (s10.3). There are also equivalent rules for barristers.

So, the basic issue is not if the solicitor has had the other party to a conflict as a client in the past, but if the duties they owe to the current and former client are in conflict. For clients who have previously been involved in litigation against each other, this will usually be the case, barring a long period of time between the cases.

Notwithstanding, the solicitor can still act with the permission of the former client and providing any relevant information is effectively firewalled. The latter is likely easier in large firms than small firms.

Yes, this means there are some clients who are off limits based on current and prior clients. This is more likely to be a problem for lawyers in smaller communities than those based in large cities or operations nationally or internationally because the pool of clients is smaller and a sole practitioner cannot firewall information from themselves. Sometimes you just have to turn the card.

You will not believe this …

Within hours of writing this answer I received a referral to adjudicate a dispute. However, I am in negotiations (as of yesterday) with the Respondent’s parent company for another contract. So, clear conflict of interest, polite decline of the referral.

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