Conflicts of interest when dealing with businesspeople, including lawyers

Next week I will write about conflict of interest in the context of powers of attorney and representation agreements. This week I set the stage by writing about conflicts of interest generally.

They’re everywhere!

Many columnists, including me, have conflicting interests.

I am a writer, 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 they might not be truly 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 even outright states that 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.

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

Businesses are often in conflict if potential customers are relying 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.

The 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 that conflict which lurks any time the business has expertise that the customer needs to make a purchase decision.

Including 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 that a new will is necessary because of the significant change that guardians are no longer required.

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

This conflict of interest should be considered any time you are relying on a business to advise you about what products or services you need.

In my view, the worst of conflicts of interests are with politicians looking to be re-elected.

It’s what leads me to often exclaim how much I hate politics!

For re-election, they need popularity with the majority of the voting public.

But to do the best for their constituents, they must at times implement important though unpopular policies such as those to save the environment or to help minorities.

Implementation of MAID (medical assistance in dying) laws was significantly delayed, taking two series of court battles to 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 might be referring to, please send me an e-mail with your thoughts. I’m interested in knowing how broadly my cynicism is shared!

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