How to Set Up a Conflict System in Outlook

Using Outlook for conflict tracking may not be the most ideal solution, but for many lawyers starting out on a shoestring, it’s a way to make do.  

More likely than not, you already own the program.  And as Tom Peterson used to say, “Free is a very good price” when you have little or no capital to launch your practice. 

Here’s How it Works

Create a new contact card in Outlook for every client/matter.  Enter the client’s name, address, and other contact information.  Use the Notes field to enter:

  • Conflict names and relationships
  • File number (if used)
  • Date file opened
  • Description of case

When you close a matter, enter:

  • Closed file number
  • Date file closed
  • Date of destruction (when destroyed)


If you are a novice or favor simplicity, keep all clients – former and current – in one contact list.  This allows for easy searching, which is the key to any conflict database.  If you are more adept with Outlook, you can use categories to identify area of practice, responsible attorney in a multi-lawyer firm, and current/former client status.  (Another option is to create separate contact lists for current and former clients.)

To search for conflicts in Outlook, navigate to the appropriate contact folder.  In the Search Contacts box, enter the name you wish to search for:

Outlook will search through the first tab of every contact card in your list, including the Notes field.  If a match is found, Outlook automatically displays the card(s) which match the search term. 

To Learn More

There is more to learn about the process of using Outlook for conflict checking.  Click here for complete instructions on how to set up a conflict system in Outlook 2007.  If you are using an older version of Outlook, contact me and I’ll be happy to send you directions for the version you are using.  I also recommend downloading the PLF’s Conflict of Interest Systems-Procedures.  (Select Practice Aids and Forms, then Conflicts of Interest.)  To become an Outlook 2007 power user, order the free DVD, “Microsoft Outlook 2007 Tips,” on the PLF Web site.  (Select Programs on CD/DVD.)

What is the Downside?

Although I’m an Outlook fan, I readily admit there are downsides to using Outlook for conflict tracking.  First, it isn’t the most elegant solution for lawyers who represent clients with multiple matters.  Without enhancements, the program isn’t designed to relate multiple cases or projects to a specific person.  Secondly, Outlook doesn’t readily produce a report to print and place in your file.  There is a workaround of sorts for this issue, which I describe in my instructions.  (See the “Advanced Find” directions.)  You can also use the Request for Conflict Search and System Entry, which is a form included in the Conflict of Interest Systems-Procedures posted on our Web site.  (Select Practice Aids and Forms, then Conflicts of Interest.)

What is the Upside?

If you own Outlook, have no money to spend on software, and aren’t a computer geek, you can get by using Outlook for conflict tracking.  It’s user-friendly and doesn’t require any special effort to get started.  More significantly, it’s quite forgiving:  You can be completely inconsistent when entering conflict information in the Notes field and the search funtion in Outlook will still work.  When you are able to move up to something more sophisticated, Outlook makes it easy to export data with the File Import/Export Wizard.   

You can also enhance Outlook to make it operate more like practice management software.  Practice management software is by far the best way to track conflicts and all the other information related to your clients and their files.  Take a look at Credenza, an Outlook Add-On available for $9.95 per month.  Credenza adds more functionality to Outlook, enabling you to relate multiple files and projects to one client.  More importantly for this post, Credenza can also run a conflict search and print search results:

Because it searches through contact cards, files, phone logs, and e-mails, the conflict check is more thorough.

A free trial of Credenza is available hereRead more about this program at the Mass LOMAP blog maintained by my colleagues Jared Correia and Rodney Dowell.

Practice Tip:  Conflict data accumulates throughout your career as a lawyer.  You must be able to search against an accurate list of former clients and related parties so long as you are engaged in the practice of law.  If you are an associate, Assistant District Attorney, Public Defender, or providing legal services in some other capacity, keep your own conflict list.  Do not rely on your employer to accurately track each file you work on.

Copyright 2010 Beverly Michaelis

‘Tis the Season for Being Thankful

2009 was the year I started blogging and tweeting.  (Sounds like a gastrointestinal problem, doesn’t it?)

In those “dark moments” when I felt the pressure of an impending blog post, I soldiered on.  My inspiration?  Your support.  

It was particularly gratifying to meet some of my Twitter followers (and followees) at our November Solo by Choice CLE with Carolyn Elefant.  We were almost giddy to see each other in person.  I know it seems silly, but it’s true.

People sometimes ask:  What do you get out of blogging?  Is it worth it to be on Twitter

It’s pretty simple.  Blogging allows me to get the word out when it still matters.  Articles are great, but the publication time lines are brutally long.  My first blog post is a good example.  I originally submitted it as an article, but got weary waiting for publication.  I also find that blogging appeals to my style of writing – informal and conversational.  For those who have enjoyed the conversation, thank you.  I have too.

Twitter?  I am an enthusiastic supporter.   Yes – I know all about the naysayers, the quitters, the lurkers, and the spammers.  Sometimes I feel like I’m playing Hollywood Squares:  I’ll take @Spam to block, please.  Despite all that, it’s more than worth it.  Twitter gives me breaking news in every area imaginable – technology, law, politics, weather, current events, science, entertainment – and the information is concise. If I want to read more, I just click on a link.  I learn more in a day from Twitter than any other information source I access on a regular basis.  And the people!  I’ve connected to people I would never have met in any other way, including colleagues, and I am richer for it.  Here are a few who deserve special mention:

To Jared Correia and Rodney Dowell of the Law Office Management Assistance Program for Massachusetts lawyers – thank you for being among my most ardent retweeters.  You guys are the best!

To Lynne DeVenny of Practical Paralegalism – thank you for the opportunity to write my first guest blog.  It was truly an honor. 

To Jill Pugh – thank you for inviting me to speak at the King County Bar Association’s Solo & Small Firm Bootcamp.  I enjoyed meeting all the new admittees – what a terrific group of people.  And listening to Joe Shaub – what a treat!  I can now officially scoff at those who say Twitter and LinkedIn are a waste of time.  Jill and I would not have “met” otherwise.

To my blog subscribers and Twitter followers, especially those in Oregon, many thanks.  I look forward to 2010, and wish all of you a prosperous, peaceful, and happy New Year.