Legal Ethics

Federal Judge Boots Law Firm from Case for Hiring the Wrong Associate

Applying what some might consider an unduly strict interpretation of conflict-of-interest standards, a federal magistrate judge in Massachusetts has disqualified Lichten & Liss-Riordan from continuing to represent the plaintiff in a five-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act case.

Although associate Sarah Getchell, who was recently hired by the firm, says she doesn’t have any recollection of working on the case when she was a first-year associate in the Boston office of opposing counsel Seyfarth Shaw, Judge Robert Collings disqualified the firm in an Aug. 10 ruling and said its client will have to get new counsel, reports Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Experts consulted by the legal publication had differing views about whether Collings had perhaps been a little too strict in his application of legal ethics rules against conflicts of interest in O’Donnell v. Robert Half International.

However, one had a practical suggestion for other law firms that might find themselves in the same situation. Informed—as the Lichten firm reportedly was, when it called for a reference on Getchell—that its opposing counsel saw a conflict, the firm could have asked the court hearing the O’Donnell case for a ruling on whether the situation was permissible, says California attorney Richard Flamm. He is the author of a treatise on lawyer disqualification.

Getchell, who is a 2008 law graduate of the University of Michigan, didn’t respond to requests for comment from the weekly.

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