A Day in the Life of a Conflicts Information Specialist

Amanda Brooks, former Head Editor, INALJ British Columbia
previously published 3/13/14

A Day in the Life of a Conflicts Information Specialist

Amanda Brooks“What is a Conflicts Information Specialist?” you may be asking yourself after reading that title. I certainly was when I stumbled across a job posting for this position. The purpose of a Conflicts Information Specialist is to ensure that lawyers do not take on cases which create a conflict of interest with any current or previous work by other lawyers. A conflict of interest is when working with a client has given the law firm an unfair advantage in legal cases which are adverse in interest to that client. At its simplest level, lawyers from the same law firm cannot take on opposing sides in the same case but they should also not act for the competitors of major clients of the firm. It is unfeasible for lawyers to talk to all of their colleagues to figure out if there is a potential problem and some cases are completely confidential. That is where the Conflicts Information Specialist comes in.

In our department, five Conflict Information Specialist receive around a hundred daily requests via an online submission system for names of individuals, companies and addresses. We search external databases to identify whether these names are affiliated with other names; for example, if a company has changed its name or is known commonly by a different name. We also check our lists of confidential matters and contact the lawyers to let them know they need to speak together without revealing any confidential details.

Finally, we search Osler’s internal database of all past matters. This is where a specialized training in database search really shines because we have to take into account any possible misspellings or alternate spellings. Being able to quickly create comprehensive and precise search criteria using Boolean and wildcard operators is critical. The search could yield no or hundreds of results which we need to sort through to identify the relevant hits. We compile all of this information in a report for the lawyer who checks to make sure no hits represent a conflict of interest.

If the conflicts are clear, the lawyer can submit a file opening request. A member of our team also checks this submission to make sure all necessary conflicts searches have been done and the appropriate metadata has been provided. In a way, this stage is very like cataloguing, as a large number of variables must be carefully checked before the file is opened. This may involve significant amounts of follow up with the legal assistant with the lawyer to check whether information attached to the file is accurate and complete. It is also very time sensitive because most lawyers want to start working as soon as possible!

In addition to these responsibilities, our team answers questions about conflict searches and file openings by phone and e-mail and addresses requests to amend the metadata of open files. We may also have projects such testing new information systems or modifying the files of a lawyer who has left the firm. Our team manages the workflow by rotating through five distinct roles on a monthly basis

• Rush Searcher: focuses on rush searches which must be done within two hours
• Support Searcher: Assists with some rush searches and regular searches which are needed within 24 hours
• File Opener: reviews and opens files
• Support File Opener: supports the file opener and assists with searches if necessary
• All Support: Manages the team’s inbox and assists with searches if necessary.

While having a background in libraries is not a requirement for a Conflicts Information Specialist, all of my co-workers have degrees in Library Science, Information Science or Information. It is definitely an example of how reapplying key attributes of library work such as attention to detail in searching and customer service can lead you to unexpected and fruitful results in your job search.