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Every two years, Illinois attorneys have to do 30 hours of continuing legal education (CLE). I do all of my CLE online. Most of it is boring and if I’m being honest, not very relevant. I get most of my real continuing education by reading trade journals, doing research and talking to other attorneys.
Every now and then though, a speaker says something that catches my interest. This happened recently when I watched a presentation on conflicts of interest.
All lawyers know that you can’t represent an injured worker against a business and also represent that business on a different case. That would be a clear conflict.
What the speaker said that hit home for me is that a conflict of interest is when your interests are different than what is best for your client.
I see these less obvious conflicts all the time in the way some attorneys handle their cases. In fact there are a bunch of red flags that are conflicts. These include:
– Your lawyer insisting on you seeing a certain doctor for your injury. It’s usually because that doctor sends them business so they feel they need to return the favor.
– A lawyer who encourages clients to take on legal funding loans because that company entertains them or kicks them back some money. Your attorney should make clear that in most cases, these loans are outrageous and a bad idea.
– A lawyer who won’t take a case to trial. This is a biggie. Some cases shouldn’t go to trial because they are too small. But I’ve been at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and seen plenty of attorneys settle a case for less than it’s worth instead of going to trial because they had Cubs tickets or wanted to cut out early on a Friday. Other times lawyers don’t take a case to trial because they just don’t want to do the work. Their selfishness hurts you.
– Assigning a really young lawyer to handle your case. This is a conflict because the attorney wants the young lawyer to get the benefit of experience. It helps their law firm in the long run. However, what’s best for the law firm is not best for you. You need and deserve and experienced attorney who isn’t cutting their teeth on your case/
– Attorneys who settle short on one case because they think it will help them on others. I’ve seen this happen with firms who have a lot of cases against one company. If your case is worth $30,000.00, they might settle for $20,000.00 in hopes of getting a higher amount on a different case that is worth in the six figures. They are looking at the big picture of what’s best for their firm, not what’s best for you.
There are others, but these are common ones that you should look out for if you can. The other thing the CLE presentation I saw said was that if you get a feeling in your gut something is wrong, it probably is. I recommend that if you have a feeling in your gut that your attorney isn’t looking out for you that you listen to it and go get a second opinion.