A recent Reuters article says that if you see divorce headed your way it’s best not to waste any time before hiring an attorney, even if the papers haven’t officially been filed yet. The reason is an attorney ethical conflict known as “conflicting out.”
It’s possible that if your spouse is clever and devious, he or she could make it very hard for you to find a divorce attorney that you actually want. Even if your ex is nice, it’s still possible that he or she could inadvertently prevent your from getting the lawyer you desire.
To explain the importance of conflict, you must first turn to the rules of professional conduct, a kind of ethical handbook for lawyers. These rules say that attorneys must decline to represent an individual if “there is a significant risk that the representation … will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person…” The rules also require that lawyers keep any and all information they learn confidential, even information that is obtained during an initial consultation.
The nightmare scenario is as follows: Your spouse schedules meetings with the best divorce attorney in town. They get together and discuss the marriage, the reason for its dissolution, what he or she wants, the kids, their innermost thoughts and feelings, etc. Once this happens, it does not matter whether your spouse actually hires that attorney; they are now ethically required to keep any information they learned confidential. The problem is that this will likely mean they are ethically required to decline representing you. The reason being that they may believe the amount of information they learned from your spouse (which they must now keep secret) will prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities to you as a zealous advocate.
After a few consultations your spouse could prevent you from hiring some of the best attorneys in town. Even if your spouse isn’t so devious, the same result could come from unintentional lawyer shopping. If you don’t start looking early, your spouse may beat you to the punch.
If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a us to assist you in the matter, call us at (904) 685-1200.
Source: “Waiting to Hire a Divorce Attorney Could Cost You,” by Stephanie Rabiner, published at Reuters.com.