In addition to conflicts of interest, personal bias is another issue that can prevent an obstacle for attorneys. Professionals should always assess a new client for conflicts of interest, but they should also consider personal biases.
What is Bias?
The Webster’s New World Law Dictionary defines bias as “a mental tendency, inclination, preconception, prejudice, taint”. Personal beliefs and opinions, as well as prior work with clients, can induce bias. Biases are a natural human tendency, but they can prevent attorneys from performing fair services.
Consider this example of bias. A professional prepares joint tax returns for a couple, meaning he or she had access to confidential information. When the clients decide to divorce, an expert performs the family law services for one tax client. In this case, the expert has knowledge that may be valuable, but also lead to a conflict of interest and bias. A formal written and signed waiver must be signed by both clients to allow the expert to act jointly for the husband and wife.
Conflict of Interest vs Bias
Conflict of interest involves having a relationship with another person, product, service, or entity that could be viewed as impairing objectivity. On the other hand, bias is a mental inclination that disrupts objectivity. In many cases, a conflict of interest can be “cured” with the appropriate measures. The conflict should be disclosed immediately, and the relevant parties must sign a waiver to agree to the service. While conflicts of interest can often be mitigated, bias can rarely be solved.
The Consequence of Bias in Law
Bias can have a dramatic negative effect on a case. Juries and judges easily recognize bias, and will not ignore it. Choosing to take on a case with bias can damage your client’s position and harm the expert’s reputation. Ultimately, the words of an expert perceived as biased will carry less weight and could lead to a weaker case.
Ultimately, bias can be difficult to navigate for professionals. Just as you should assess conflict of interest, you must consider the potential for bias. The professional must then evaluate the ability to complete the case accurately and fairly. Should the bias not be manageable, the attorney should not take on the case, as is the best interest of the client and professional. Experienced attorneys understand the importance of considering bias and will not take on cases that they have a bias toward.