Conflicts of Interest? New York Advises on Law School Clinic and Nonprofit Collaboration

The New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics, recently advised that a legal clinic pursuing claims on behalf of indigent clients is not “associated” with its co-counsel, a nonprofit legal services organization, for the purposes of imputing conflicts of interest.

The question that prompted the release of Ethics Opinion 1141 came to the Committee from New York law school’s legal clinic that sought to have its students collaborate as co-counsel with a New York not-for-profit legal services organization. In reaching its conclusion, the Committee noted that the clinic and the legal services organization should not be considered associated under Rule 1.10 because, among other things, the entities are financially separate, operate out of separate offices, maintain their own files, do not share any personnel, and represent numerous clients in matters where they do not serve as co-counsel.

The Committee compared the collaboration to private practice and noted that separate law firms acting as co-counsel in discrete matters are not associated in the same firm for the purpose of imputing all conflicts of each firm to the other under Rule 1.10. Rather, the Rules require that the two firms clear conflicts “individually and separately, only in matters in which the two serve as co-counsel.”

Read the full ethics opinion here.

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