Conflicts of interest can be found in many walks of life

Conflicts of interest

Next week I plan to write about conflict of interest in the context of powers of attorney and representation agreements but this week, I will set the stage by writing about conflicts of interest generally. They’re everywhere.

Many columnists, including me, have conflicting interests. I am a writer who is interested in providing helpful information about end-of-life matters to the public. I am also a lawyer running a law firm, interested in building my clientele.

I could use my column to persuade readers that particular legal services are necessary, even if that might not be so. I could choose not to provide information and links to resources allowing for results to be achieved without incurring the expense of a lawyer, and I could describe myself in a way that implies, or outright states, I am the best person to go to for the legal services I provide, even though there are many lawyers who provide the same services.

Those conflicting interests should be kept in mind any time you read a column written by a business owner or service provider.

Businesses are often in conflict if potential customers rely on them to help decide what products or services they need. The interest of providing reliable advice often conflicts with the interest of maximizing sales. A classic example is an unscrupulous automotive shop, where you might be given a laundry list of required services when taking your vehicle in for an oil change.

But automotive shops don’t have a lock on conflicts that lurk any time a business has expertise that the customer needs to make a purchase decision. And that includes law firms.

For example, a parent might come to me with an old will appointing guardians for their children who have since become adults. They often assume a new will is necessary because of the significant change that guardians are no longer required.

Advising them a will doesn’t require updating solely because guardian appointments are no longer required conflicts with selling will services.

So, conflict of interest should be considered any time you rely on a business to advise you about what products or services you need.

In my view, the worst of conflicts are with politicians looking to be re-elected. It’s what leads me to often exclaim how much I hate politics.

For re-election, a politician needs popularity with a majority of the voting public. But to do the best for his or her constituents, the politician must, at times, implement important though unpopular policies, such as those to save the environment or help minorities. Implementation of the Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) laws was significantly delayed, taking two series of court battles before the Supreme Court of Canada to finally force the issue because of this horrible conflict of interest.

My wife thinks I’m overly cynical, always skeptical of what selfish interest might be driving what we’re being told. She’s probably right. It’s my cynical side that led me to ponder conflicts of interest in the context of powers of attorney and representation agreements.

If you have ideas about what I’m referring to, please send me an e-mail with your thoughts. I’m interested in knowing how broadly my cynicism is shared.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Lawyer Paul Hergott began writing as a columnist in January 2007. 

Achieving Justice, based on Paul’s personal injury practice at the time, focused on injury claims and road safety.  It was published weekly for 13½ years until July 2020, when his busy legal practice no longer left time for writing.

Paul was able to pick up writing again in January 2024. After transitioning his practice to estate administration and management.

Paul’s intention is to write primarily about end of life and estate related matters, but he is very easily distracted by other topics.

You are encouraged to contact Paul directly at [email protected] with legal questions and issues you would like him to write about.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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