Liar Liar

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Before I became a lawyer, while I was in law school, it was confusing to me why lawyers had a reputation of not telling the truth.  To me it was pretty clear – as a lawyer I would be representing my clients and helping them explain their position of point of view in court.  Since I would not be a litigant, my  role was a very limited one, and since I was not personally a witness to anything, what was there for me to lie about?

Well, 32 years later I have seen a lot, and now I understand that “liar” reputation that tends to follow the legal profession around.  First of all, let me be clear that the ethics requirements of my profession require that I always tell the truth to the judge, and I am not allowed to permit my clients to commit perjury, if I am certain, or substantially certain, that their testimony is untruthful.  I am supposed to ask for a recess in the proceedings, “remonstrate” with my client – essentially insist that they tell the truth – and if they refuse to change their testimony, I am supposed to ask the court for permission to withdraw as that witness’s lawyer.

As a general practice, I have always advised my clients to tell the truth.  First of all, I need to know the truth, so I can work with them to make smart decisions as to how to go about best presenting their case.  Perjury is against the law, so I can’t be a good lawyer/citizen if I permit my clients to break the law. Second, my reputation is important to me; I want judges and other lawyers to respect me; it helps my clients in the long run if the judges of their cases can feel confident that I don’t allow my clients to perjure themselves in testifying.

Unfortunately, there are lawyers that appear to be a lot less scrupulous with the truth.  Do they just forget to get enough information from their client and feel the need to cover up their lack of knowledge?  Is “winning” so important that they forget their obligations to the court and to society?  Why do some lawyers make up excuses for their clients not complying with a deadline or an order of court which are clearly false?  I try to make it clear to my clients:  doing the right thing is always better (and usually cheaper) than trying to “game” the system or using the courts to “wound” the other party.

There are plenty of lawyers around like me, those who are interested in upholding the sanctity of the legal system, so that those who have to rely on it don’t feel that they are behind the 8-ball. It’s true that trying to negotiate the legal system without a lawyer is difficult, but that is because there are procedures and rules which the system operates under, which are difficult for the layperson to understand and follow.  There’s a reason lawyers spent all of that time and money to attend law school.  Like I tell clients, of course anyone is entitled to represent themselves, just like I am entitled to try to fix my car instead of hiring a mechanic.  However, the results of self-representation are often pretty unsatisfying, just as any feeble attempts I may try to make to fix my car.

If you believe that “lawyers are liars,” you just haven’t met the right lawyer.  And if you are looking for a lawyer to help you perpetrate a lie, I suspect you can find one.  However, count me out on that.  I’m not interested.

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