The Consequences Of Lying To Your LawyerApr 15, 2016 11:13AM ● By Ellen Wright
Not being truthful with your lawyer may not just cost you some embarrassment, it could cost you the outcome of your lawsuit.
Confidentiality – A Relationship Predicated on Trust
One of the founding principles of the American legal system is confidentiality in the communications between a lawyer and his or her client. The attorney-client privilege protects confidential communications between a client or prospective client and an attorney made for the primary purpose of obtaining legal advice or assistance. Except in a few limited circumstances, the attorney cannot reveal these confidential communications to a third party or in the course of any legal proceeding. This principle of confidentiality is based on the idea that an attorney needs to know all the facts of a client’s case, favorable and unfavorable, in order to effectively advocate for the client and achieve his or her goals. With this principle in mind, lawyers strongly encourage their clients to be candid with them about the details of their case, no matter how embarrassing or unpleasant. In fact, if a client is not truthful with their advocate, it can be grounds for an attorney to withdraw from representation of that person altogether. Nevertheless, some clients misrepresent or omit important facts and details they feel might hurt their case despite warnings not to do so. Because all communications between the client and the attorney regarding the client’s case are held in confidence, lying will not only reduce the odds of achieving the client’s goals and adversely affect the client’s case, but will cause the attorney to have strong misgivings about the client.
Judges Judge – The Attorney Advocates and Defends
An attorney’s job is to advocate and defend, not judge. When people seek legal assistance, especially for family law matters such as divorce, the attorney must many personal questions during the intake process. Clients are sometimes reluctant to disclose facts they view as unfavorable out of fear that the lawyer may judge them for their actions and not accept them as a client. They may also withhold certain unpleasant details that they believe the lawyer doesn’t need to know or they think are irrelevant to the case. Be mindful that lawyers handle cases involving indiscretions such as adultery, drug use, abuse, and other offensive activity on a regular basis and there is unlikely anything that will shock an experienced lawyer. Most attorneys are compassionate and will empathize with a sensitive and difficult situation. It is never an attorney’s intention to embarrass or make a person uncomfortable, but in order to do his or her job, an attorney know all of the adverse facts in order to effectively strategize and plan. In fact, an experienced lawyer may know how to put a positive spin on even the worst possible set of circumstances. It is always better to err on the side of caution, and be completely forthcoming with an attorney, so that they can effectively advocate for the client.
The Adverse Effects – Irreparable Damage
Clients who lie to their lawyers are subjecting themselves to a lose-lose scenario. The truth almost always has a way of coming out – in one form or another. If adverse facts aren’t revealed up front and dealt with, it is likely that they will surface at a later stage of litigation and be used against the client by the opposing party. In many cases, it can have devastating consequences for both the client and the lawyer. The worst case scenario for the client is when a lie is exposed during the client’s testimony while under oath. More likely than not, it will come out under cross-examination while credibility is under attack.
Attorneys also may also undergo scrutiny when clients are not truthful and sustain damage to their reputations. Attorneys are officers of the court and subscribe to the Rules of Professional Conduct which prohibit them from assisting client in perpetuating a fraud (making misrepresentations) to the Court. If a client is caught in a lie, it may also call the actions of the lawyer into question, and may cause the attorney to appear in a bad light before the Court. If this happens, an attorney may seek to withdraw from the case in order to protect his or her reputation.
It is clear that clients gain nothing by lying to their lawyers. The best thing clients can do for themselves is be forthcoming in all their communications with their attorney and avoid the chances of an unfavorable outcome. Because private conversations with attorneys are almost always treated as confidential, it is better to talk about unpleasant facts early with them early on rather than to be caught off guard later. Candor isn’t just important; it is the cornerstone of the attorney-client relationship. Without mutual trust between the lawyer and client, both are at a disadvantage.
(Attorney Ellen Wright owns Wright Family Law Group, 1445 Main St., Tewksbury, Mass. She specializes in divorce, personal injury and bankruptcy cases.)