This page provides a summary of lawyer disqualification law and links to specific topics for further information. Consisting of the two primary parts, disqualification law can appear (deceptively) simple. When ruling on a disqualification motion, courts generally (1) look for an ethical violation, or at least the appearance of impropriety, as the basis for disqualification, and (2) if found, weigh various factors to determine whether disqualification is the appropriate remedy in the circumstances. Each part is addressed in order below.

(1) Bases for Disqualification Motions.  Courts can eject lawyers from cases for many reasons. The common and predictable reasons, however, are certain categories of ethical violations (or at least the appearance of such violations). The ten categories follow, and to read an overview, click on the category of interest:

(1) Concurrent Client Conflicts of Interest;

(2) Personal Interest Conflicts;

(3) Former Client Conflicts of Interest;

(4) Lawyers as Witnesses;

(5) Receipt of Confidential, Privileged, or Stolen Information;

(6) Contact with a Represented Party;

(7) Misconduct with Witnesses;

(8) “Other Misconduct;”

(9) Imputed Misconduct (Including Conflicts of Interest); and

(10) the Appearance of Impropriety.

To illustrate rough proportions, the following chart shows the relative percentage of each category above, based on all federal disqualification cases in the last ten years:

LDB_All Cases

(2) Factors Relevant to the Disqualification Remedy.  After one or more of the ethical violations above are brought to the court’s attention (ordinarily through a motion to disqualify or a motion to determine counsel), and after the court finds or at least suspects a violation, the court then engages in a balancing of the equities to determine whether the disqualification remedy is warranted.  Over time, courts have identified several factors weighing for or against disqualification.  Organizing those factors by the particular participants whose conduct or interests are scrutinized, courts examine the:

(1) Movant;

(2) Lawyer;

(3) Lawyer’s Client;

(4) Lawyer’s Firm; and

(5) Court or Justice System.

[Source: Keith Swisher, The Practice and Theory of Lawyer Disqualification, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 71 (2014)]