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. (September 2015)
A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Typically, this relates to situations in which the personal interest of an individual or organization might adversely affect a duty owed to make decisions for the benefit of a third party.
The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of Inappropriateness. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs. A conflict of interest exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that a decision may be unduly influenced by other, secondary interests, and not on whether a particular individual is actually influenced by a secondary interest.
A widely used definition is: "A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest." Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public officer. Secondary interest includes personal benefit and is not limited to only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement, or the wish to do favours for family and friends. These secondary interests are not treated as wrong in and of themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. Conflict of interest rules in the public sphere mainly focus on financial relationships since they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable, and usually involve the political, legal, and medical fields.
Related to the practice of law
Judicial disqualification, also referred to as recusal, refers to the act of abstaining from participation in an official action such as a court case/legal proceeding due to a conflict of interest of the presiding court official or administrative officer. Applicable statutes or canons of ethics may provide standards for recusal in a given proceeding or matter. Providing that the judge or presiding officer must be free from disabling conflicts of interest makes the fairness of the proceedings less likely to be questioned.
In the practice of law, the duty of loyalty owed to a client prohibits an attorney (or a law firm) from representing any other party with interests adverse to those of a current client. The few exceptions to this rule require informed written consent from all affected clients, i.e., an "ethical wall". In some circumstances, a conflict of interest can never be waived by a client. In perhaps the most common example encountered by the general public, the same firm should not represent both parties in a divorce or child custody matter. Found conflict can lead to denial or disgorgement of legal fees, or in some cases (such as the failure to make mandatory disclosure), criminal proceedings. In 1998, a Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy partner was found guilty of failing to disclose a conflict of interest, disbarred, and sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment. In the United States, a law firm usually cannot represent a client if the client's interests conflict with those of another client, even if the two clients are represented by separate lawyers within the firm, unless (in some jurisdictions) the lawyer is segregated from the rest of the firm for the duration of the conflict. Law firms often employ software in conjunction with their case management and accounting systems in order to meet their duties to monitor their conflict of interest exposure and to assist in obtaining waivers.