“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Like most “Star Wars” characters, attorneys face sticky situations. When ethical questions arise, our Force senses tingle and we must consider next steps to prevent liability and avoid ethical violations. These decisions are similar to Luke’s choice between the light side and the dark side: “Do not let the dark side sway you.”
Members of the Jedi Order and their compatriots provide great examples of ethics in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and these examples can be applied to your life as a lawyer.1 When ethical questions arise in your practice, weigh your options, stay calm, use your knowledge, and choose the light side of the Force. Do or do not comply with the ethics rules. There is no try.
Conflicts Must Be Discovered and Resolved
Han Solo’s “dear” friend Lando Calrissian served as the Baron Administrator of Cloud City. Running from the Empire after the rout on Hoth, Han and his friends seek refuge on Cloud City, but Vader is close behind and threatens to take over Cloud City if Lando does not do his bidding. Lando was faced with a major conflict of interest: Betray his friend Han or betray the Empire?
At first, Lando sides with the Empire at the expense of Han and his friends. Then, Lando has a change of heart after Vader takes Han, Princess Leia, C3PO (in pieces) and Chewbacca hostage, and reneges on his bargain with Lando — Cloud City is now Vader’s domain. Lando betrays Vader, sets the rebels free, helps them escape, and joins in the search for Han, now encased in carbonite and being delivered to the chambers of Jabba the Hutt by bounty hunter Boba Fett.
Attorneys may face the dilemma of whom to “betray” in their practices. While our circumstances are not so dramatic, we must address conflicts of interest. The Washington Rules of Professional Conduct relating to conflicts of interest can be found in RPC 1.7–1.11.
Lando’s decision is tantamount to a concurrent conflict of interest under RPC 1.7. A concurrent conflict exists when representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client and/or there is a significant risk that representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a third person, or a personal interest. When there is a concurrent conflict of interest, one cannot represent the client creating the conflict unless certain exceptions apply.
Attorneys encounter subtle concurrent conflicts of interest in daily practice. For example, an attorney cannot ethically comply, without obtaining consent in writing, if a person other than the client pays the attorney’s billings. Lawyers are also prohibited from entering into business transactions with clients or knowingly acquiring an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client. RPC 1.8(a).
RPC 1.9 outlines duties to former clients. Under this rule, Lando could not use any information he gained from Vader when he initially sided with the Empire in his “representation” of Han Solo. However, if Vader was compelled to do so, he could give Lando informed, written consent. While conflicts seem unlikely, there is a high possibility that attorneys will be faced with and required to resolve conflict battles throughout their daily practice.
Competence Is Fundamental
Luke knew that the Force was with him, but that he did not have the appropriate skills to serve or lead the rebel troops. When he shot down his first TIE fighter, Han assured him that one success isn’t proof that your skills are honed, stating, “Don’t get cocky.” Because he understood his lack of skill, after Obi-Wan’s demise Luke sought training from Yoda, the oldest and most powerful — if not the last remaining — Jedi Master in the galaxy.
Just as Luke sought training from Yoda, lawyers must seek training from their masters. However, Han cannot remind us that we need more training. Lawyers are required to provide “competent representation” to clients under RPC 1.1, which requires “the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
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