111 N.J.L.J. 16
January 6, 1983
Conflict of Interest
Nonunion Law School Employee
Forming Partnership with
Attorney Representing Union at School
An attorney poses several questions relating to a partnership he wishes to form. The facts relating to each and our conclusion are as follows:
1. Attorney A is an employee of a Law School's Clinical Program providing legal representation to indigent individuals and is required to devote 40 hours per week to this Program.
Attorney B wants to form a partnership with Attorney A. Attorney B represents one of the Labor Unions at the Law School and in the course of his representation brings suits against the Law School on behalf of the Union.
Attorney A will work in Attorney B's office at least 10 hours per week. Will the formation of a partnership between these attorneys create a conflict of interest?
While Attorney A does not represent the Law School in any legal matters, nor will he appear or participate in any suit the firm brings on behalf of the Union, nevertheless there is a definite appearance of a conflict of interest.
In the event Attorney B brings suit against the Law School on behalf of a Union member and loses, it could be readily claimed by the disgruntled loser that he lost his case because the Union's attorney is too close to the Law School that employs his partner. Similarly the Law School Administrators might very well be criticized for having on the payroll an attorney whose partner is in an adversarial relationship to the School. This appearance of a conflict of interest is worsened by the fact that this will be a two lawyer partnership with Attorney A's financial condition related to the success of the partnership.
2. Would the fact that Attorney A works 40 hours per week in the Law School's Clinical office and 10 hours per week in the partnership office invalidate the partnership?
By itself this certainly should not serve to invalidate a partnership relationship. It is the appearance of a conflict of interest as set forth in the answer to Question 1 which creates the problem.
3. Attorney B would also like to hire Attorney C who works as a non-attorney employee of the Law School but is a member of the Union at the Law School which Attorney B represents. Will the employment of Attorney C create a conflict of interest?
Once again it is our opinion that there is a conflict of interest in this proposed relationship. The hiring of Attorney C, who is also employed by the Law School, together with Attorney A, another Law School employee, makes the entire arrangement subject
to an appearance of a conflict of interest. While there is nothing unethical per se in the proposed partnership between Attorneys A and B and the hiring of Attorney C, an adversarial relationship between the partnership and the law school would be improper.