Are Lawyers Allowed to Represent Family Members?

By Peter DePaolis

One of the first phone calls that every law school graduate receives is from long-lost cousins they have not seen in years, wanting free legal advice and representation. Some lawyers develop an office policy that they will not represent family members. The rule of law on the question, whether lawyers are allowed to represent family members, is far from a simple yes or no answer. 

A Maryland personal injury attorney can talk to you and answer your questions about this and other issues. 

Maryland Rule 19-301.7 Conflict of Interest – General Rule (1.7)

Lawyers must follow the rules of professional conduct for their state. The American Bar Association (ABA) drafted a Model Code of Professional Responsibility, and the states each adopted the Model Code or wrote their own version. Rule 1.7 in the ABA Model Code covers the issue of conflicts of interest. Maryland’s version of Rule 1.7 of the ABA Model Code is Rule 19-301.7 Conflict of Interest – General Rule (1.7) of the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct.

In a nutshell, Maryland’s version of Rule 1.7 makes two significant points:

  • A lawyer is not allowed to represent a client if doing so would create a conflict of interest.
  • Sometimes an attorney is allowed to represent a client even if there is a conflict of interest if the circumstances satisfy the four requirements for doing so.

Lawyers are supposed to be loyal to their clients and exercise independent judgment. Many conflict of interest situations violate at least one of those two requirements.

What is a Conflict of Interest

The Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct defines a conflict of interest for purposes of an attorney-client relationship as:

“(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the attorney’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the attorney.”

Still, there are exceptions.

What Are the Four Elements That Allow Representation Despite a Conflict of Interest

Under the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct, there are loopholes to this general rule. 

“Notwithstanding the existence of a conflict of interest under section (a) of this Rule, an attorney may represent a client if:

(1) the attorney reasonably believes that the attorney will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client;

(2) the representation is not prohibited by law;

(3) the representation does not involve the assertion of a claim by one client against another client represented by the attorney in the same litigation or another proceeding before a tribunal; and

(4) each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.

If all four of these elements are met, the lawyer is allowed to represent or continue to represent the client. If you have questions about whether your personal injury case has conflict of interest issues, you will want to talk to a Maryland personal injury attorney right away. For legal assistance contact our office today, we offer a free consultation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.