St. Mary's Law Journal


Uncertainty over conduct which results in disqualification can be costly and the laws relating to disqualification may be widely known but their application is difficult. Rigid application of irrebuttable presumptions and imputation of knowledge may result in disqualification of a client’s chosen counsel. Even if an attorney succeeds in opposing a motion to disqualify, the resulting costs and delay may damage the attorney-client relationship more than if the attorney had simply declined the representation. Motions to disqualify usually arise from conflicts of interest involving former clients. The law of disqualification, in this instance, is well developed and largely based on the “substantial relationship” test. Under the substantial relationship test, the party seeking disqualification must prove the factual matters in a prior attorney-client relationship are substantially related to the facts of the pending litigation. This means the matters are substantially related if there is a genuine threat that confidences disclosed to a former counsel will be revealed to the party’s current adversary. As a means to balance the important competing interests, the Texas Supreme Court requires strict adherence to an “exacting standard” when evaluation such motions. While Texas courts are not usually where disciplinary proceedings take place, the Texas Supreme Court has held trial courts have a duty to regulate the legal profession when appropriate via the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (the Rules). The goal of the Rules is to define the minimum standard of conduct, making them merely advisory in disqualification proceedings. Nevertheless, the Rules are the preeminent source for attorney disqualification. Yet, the core of analysis for a motion to disqualify is the juxtaposition between the attorney and the moving party, balanced between considerations of protecting client confidences and the right to retain chosen counsel.


St. Mary's University School of Law