Andrew Rubin, Esq.

My attorney told me he had a conflict of interest—now what?

Question: About 18 months ago, I was in a car accident. Immediately after the accident, I called an acquaintance who is a personal injury attorney. He took my case, but not much happened.

Finally, about 4 months ago, he called me into his office and told me that he could not represent me anymore because of a conflict of interest—it turns out the person who hit me is related to his assistant. What do I do now? Can he just quit like that?

Answer: Every lawyer has a responsibility to his client to provide a professional standard of care. In your case, one of the things your attorney owed you was a “conflict-check” before he took your case. What is a conflict-check? Essentially, it requires an attorney to ensure he has no conflict of interest in your case. Why is this important? Having a conflict of interest can open an attorney to malpractice allegations and in some cases, disbarment.

Most attorneys check for conflicts before they agree to represent a client. It’s hard to say why your attorney did not. In any case, your question was whether an attorney could withdraw in these circumstances and what you should do now.

Yes, your attorney can and should withdraw. If he proceeded to represent you and lost, you could accuse him of doing so—even unconsciously—because of his connection to the driver who hit you. What, however, is your next move?

In New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years for personal injury cases related to car accidents. It sounds like you are getting very close to that deadline. You should seek alternate legal counsel as soon as possible to protect your claim. If the two-year mark has passed, your attorney could be held liable, and you should consult a malpractice lawyer to review your case.

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