A conflict of interest waiver is a legal document stating that a conflict of interest may be present in a situation, all parties are aware, and steps are being taken to keep things fair and reasonable. Such waivers are required for some legal situations and strongly advisable in others. Clients asked to sign a conflict of interest waiver should make sure to review it carefully and to ask questions if there is anything they do not understand. This document goes on file and becomes part of the supporting materials for a case.
In a simple example, two attorneys at Law Firm Xyz could represent opposite sides of a case. This could create a conflict of interest because they both work for the same firm, and have the interests of the firm in mind, as well as having a duty of care to their clients. The attorneys may draw up a conflict of interest waiver to make sure they do not share unauthorized information, conduct backroom dealing, or engage in other activities that might be unfair to their clients, or could compromise the case.
Attorneys and other professionals like doctors, judges, and so forth who have a conflict of interest in a case may need to recuse themselves in some situations, or request a waiver in others. An important aspect of this process is a full disclosure, explaining the nature of the conflict of interest, the potential problems that may arise, and what people are doing to address the situation. Clients may decide to seek different representation after the disclosure, or can agree to continue with the waiver as a binding document to guide everyone's behavior.
Without a conflict of interest waiver, there is a risk of suit and legal liability. A client unhappy with the outcome of a case may decide it was the result of an unfair situation and could sue for damages and request a new trial to have the matter decided in a neutral setting. If the client's case is successful, people may be in trouble under professional ethics guidelines and could face a suspension or revocation of their licenses to practice, depending on the standards of professional organizations they work with.
When people receive a conflict of interest waiver for review and signature, they have the right to review the document with care. They can consult another attorney for advice and may also ask to see the ethical guidelines for cases where such conflicts arise to see if the waiver covers all possible contingencies. They can also request to meet with supervisors and other people involved in the situation to learn more about how they plan to deal with the issue.