These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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16-Lawyer's Personal Interests

An ABA Model Rule 1.7 (a)(2) “material limitation” conflict might arise because of a personal relationship between opposing lawyers. Some relationships would not trigger such a conflict, but (for example) “A lawyer’s independent judgment is likely to be materially limited if due to the personal relationship with opposing counsel the lawyer would refrain from filing a well-founded motion for sanctions against opposing counsel.” Lawyers assessing possible conflicts must consider “the lawyer’s role in the matter,” must avoid unintentionally disclosing protected client confidential information (for example, “if papers relating to the representation are left in view or telephone conversations are overheard”), and must withdraw if such a personal relationship prevents the lawyer from providing “competent and diligent representation to the client.” Such “personal interest conflicts ordinarily are not imputed.” There are three levels of personal relationships. First, lawyers “who cohabit in an intimate relationship should be treated similarly to married couples for conflicts purpose” - disclosing the relationship to their clients and proceeding only if “each client gets informed consent confirmed in writing.” The “prudent course” would be for lawyers to follow the same course if they “are in some type of intimate relationship, but are not exclusive, engaged to be married or cohabiting.” Second, the analysis triggered by friendship “turns on the closeness of the friendship.” Opposing lawyers “should” follow the same course if they are “close” friends who exchange holiday gifts, “regularly socialize together,” “routinely spend time at each other’s homes,” “vacation together with their families,” “share a mentor - protégé relationship developed while colleagues,” “share confidences and intimate details of their lives.” Lawyers might be required to disclose to affected clients (but “will not ordinarily require consent” from those clients) if they once practiced together, “periodically meet for a meal when their busy schedules permit,” “try to meet when one is in the other’s hometown,” were law school classmates and “stay in touch through occasional calls or correspondence, but not regularly see one another.” Opposing lawyers usually do not need to disclose to their clients if they “may see each other at [“places of worship, professional or civil organization” gatherings], but “without feeling a close personal bond.”

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn