“If a firm was representing me in my case against my employer and was also doing work for my employer, is that a ‘conflict of interest’?”

Question: I took my employer to our local Labor Court. In my case I was represented by a firm that – I found out later – was also working for my employer. My case was dismissed in favor of my employer.

Was the firm that represented me in a “conflict of interest” in my case?

      Seattle, Washington

Answer: John, what you describe is the very definition of a conflict of interest.

A conflict of interest exists when a person’s interests would benefit from taking an action, and also benefit from not taking that very same action. For example, if you work for a company that sells cleaning supplies, and your son sells brushes to your company, will you try your hardest to get the best price for the company, or to get the best price for your son? I’d imagine that you would feel, in your heart, “conflicted” about how much the company should pay for the brushes.  

There is an old saying that illustrates conflicts of interest: “A man who has a watch always knows what time it is; a man who wears two watches is never sure.”

By the way, I’ve written an entire newsletter article on how to spot Conflicts of Interest, and what to do if you are affected by one. If you’d like to read it [click here.]

I strongly suggest you write one letter by email, FedEx or UPS, to three parties (1) the firm that represented you, (2) your former employer, and (3) the Labor Board, and advise them that you believe that you did not get a truly fair hearing because your representatives seem to have been conflicted by their doing work on “both sides.”

That is not an allegation of dishonesty, but rather an acknowledgment that it is not possible to do your best when you are in such a conflict of interest. I suggest you ask for a new Hearing to have your case re-examined.

By the way, if your representatives were licensed attorneys, you may have a claim against them for legal malpractice, or for a refund of anything you paid them, because attorneys are ethically responsible to avoid such conflicts.

Hope this helps.

          Best, Al Sklover

©  2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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