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General Information

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Conflict of Interest

We'd love to help everyone all the time, but we have to follow the ethics rules that are established by our profession.

Generally, our ethics rules say that we can't represent someone if:

  1. We can't fully advocate on behalf of a student -- for any reason, even if that reason is only a remote possibility, or even if it is more theoretical than actual, and
  2. We can't take a case that might hurt the interests of a client or former client, either because we're now taking a similar matter against them, or because we could use confidential information we received in the prior representation.

When we analyze conflicts, we treat all students who would qualify for a specific level of our services the same. If all students in a dispute would qualify for advise or represention in a given conflict, we typically only provide referral information to all of them.

We can't change it by assigning a different SLS attorney to each of two students in a conflict. If one attorney from our office has a conflict of interest, we all have a conflict of interest.

Only about 3% of our intakes are identified as conflicts of interest, but the conflict determination can mean that the individual student loses 100% of his or her options for free legal representation. For this reason we make conflicts determinations carefully, while also working to develop alternative resources for students in conflicts situations.

What happens when there is a conflict?

We run a conflicts check on every intake. If we identify a conflict, we'll do our best to get referral information to the affected student. We typically send it by email so we don't waste the student's time by making that student come in to an appointment to get the referral list.

Sometimes we aren't able to spot a conflict until the initial meeting. If that happens, we'll provide referral information when the conflict is identified.

Do students have a right to know what caused the conflict?

Unfortunately, no. We are subject to strict rules about attorney client privilege, and sometimes those rules prohibit us from explaining the reason for the conflict.

Can a student meet with an attorney after a conflict is identified?

Students are welcome to touch base by phone or email after a conflict is identified if they have questions, or if they want to provide additional information they think would prove helpful in our analysis of the conflict determination. A meeting can be useful if there are follow up questions regarding the referral information provided.

Usually a meeting is not helpful to a student after a conflict decision is made because:

  1. The attorney is not permitted to provide legal advice -- student often ask for ''information' or 'help' with the matter. We can't disguise legal advice as something else just by changing what we call it. If the student needs an attorney to be able to get the questions answered, the answers are likely legal advice.
  2. We won't debate or negotiate the conflict decision. It is critical that we all retain our law licenses to be able to continue to provide this service.

Don't I have a right to use the SLS office because I pay the student activity fee?

Students are entitled to use our services to get help for their personal legal issues, however students do not have the right to decide whether we provide referrals, advice or representation in any given case. The SLS office can't exist unless the attorneys make that decision.

We only assist students with their personal legal issues. We don't help students with their friend's legal issue or their family member's legal issue. We don't assist students as business owners. The entrepreneurship ecosystem at the University provides free legal assistance and other services for students who are launching businesses.

What are some common areas of conflict of interest?

Cases against the University or its employees, acting in their professional capacity

It is easy to understand that we can't sue the University. This proscription is more broad than that though. For example, we can only provide referral information in:

On the other hand, if the other party works for the University, but the action is unrelated to their professional role, we typically can help. So if a student has an issue with the landlord, and the landlord also works for the University, SLS can usually still help that student.

Cases against other student

With so many students living so close together -- much of the conflict that occurs here is between students. We've worked hard to try to develop resources for students in this situation to have access to a free or affordable consultation with a private attorney.

We have to be equally available to all students, and we can't pick which student to help based on who is 'right' and who is 'wrong' or who is the alleged perpetrator and who is the alleged victim. All students deserve the same right to representation, and often that means we can't help either student.

Common student-student conflict situations include:

Professional conflicts can occur even when it may not seem like there is any actual conflict between the students. Here are a couple of examples:

Cases where another student is involved in an adversarial way

Conflicts of interest often extend to situations where another student is involved in an adverse capacity to another student, even if they are not directly involved in the charge, lawsuit, or conflict.


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