Any ethics course will caution you about conflicts of interest, particularly when you are changing jobs. It seems that ethics courses should also caution you about “memory loss”.
If a paralegal has a conflict, screening the paralegal from working on the case is usually sufficient to prevent the firm’s disqualification.
Williams again failed to recognize the conflict and to notify the supervising attorney of its existence.
While his current employer immediately instructed Williams to discontinue working on the matter, not to view or access any documents related to the case, and not to disclose any information he had obtained during his earlier employment, the opposing party moved for disqualification.
The Trial Court disqualified the 2nd firm and the matter went to the Texas Supreme Court. On July 1, 2011, the Texas Supreme Court handed down a decision In Re Guaranty Insurance Services, Inc. and In Re Guaranty Insurance Services, Inc., Relator (No. 10-0364), granting mandamus relief and directing the trial court to vacate its order granting the motion to disqualify.
Luckily for Williams and his employer, the court found that the conflict rule is different for nonlawyers than for lawyers. The presumption that confidences were shared with members of the second employer may be rebutted where nonlawyers are concerned.
How Williams “forgot” he worked on this case with two different employers is beyond me. I’m certain I wouldn’t forget. To be safe, it is a good idea to keep track of the cases you work on so that you can provide full disclosure to the potential employer.
Tune in for my next blog post where I’ll explain the steps that should be taken to put a screen in place in order to avoid disqualification.
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