Do you want your attorney to be honest or to tell you want you want to hear?

Posted Friday, January 30th, 2015 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

For the past few years I’ve been seeing an individual counselor who, despite being twenty years my junior, is much wiser than I. Recently we were discussing our roles as counselors–an attorney is not just a legal advocate but also a counselor-at-law. She mentioned learning from her mentor that, although one cannot be rude, one cannot be afraid to be honest with a patient–even if it means the patient gets up and leaves, never to return. Once one stops being honest with one’s patients, one is no longer an effective counselor. At the point when the counselor starts telling patients what they want to hear, the counselor is getting his or her own ego involved–choosing the desire to be liked or financial rewards over providing counseling services.

Her mentor’s advice is relevant to lawyers too. Often lawyers tell clients what clients want to hear. They do this in order to be liked and in order to get or keep business. Such attorneys lose effectiveness because the client is not getting honest advice. While rudeness is never called for, and one can generally frame one’s advice in a manner that is hopeful rather than depressing, many clients and potential clients do not want honest advice so much as someone to tell them that they can get what they want.

There are numerous parents who are not good candidates for primary or joint custody. Rather than telling these parents that they are, it is better to tell them the problems that they will likely have in obtaining custody and suggesting goals that might be more realistically pursued. Some supported spouses will not receive alimony and some supporting spouses may have to pay permanent alimony. It is never easy to tell such folks this but to be a counselor-at-law requires the giving of honest advice.

Of the potential clients who contact my office, many are seeking goals that they are unlikely to achieve or that can be achieved only through the expenditure of time and resources that they do not have. I am happy to explain what goals I can help them achieve and why their goals may be unrealistic. Sometimes I have misunderstood the facts, and with further discussion we can come to a realization that these goals might be achieved. However one should never take a client’s money unless one either has a workable strategy as to how the client’s goals might be achieved or has explained to the client that the goals are unlikely but that one is willing to use one’s best efforts to obtain them.

Attorneys are rarely happy about being discharged by their clients (the rare exceptions are the particularly difficult clients). When one is discharged by a client for incompetence, lack of diligence, or rudeness, these firings are cause for reflection. However when one is discharged (or not retained) because one gave the client one’s best advice, and the client simply sought advice more to his or her liking, this should be seen as a sign of being honorable.

Attorneys willing to provide honest advice and clients willing to hear it typically achieve results from the family court system that they find satisfying. Clients who go about searching for the advice they want until they find it generally obtain the results they deserve too.

2 thoughts on Do you want your attorney to be honest or to tell you want you want to hear?

  1. Karen V says:

    I have only been a practicing attorney for two years, but that has been my motto since my first day. I tell every single one of my clients that I will always be honest with them. It may not be what they WANT to hear, but I am not doing my job I tell them what they want to hear because then they will be blindsided in the courtroom.

  2. Chery Martinez says:

    It is a good practice to be honest rather than hiding the truth from clients. I am saying this because when I was dealing with the custody case with lawyers at they told me every fact clearly, it was difficult but then I appreciated that being a lawyer they are telling me the truth.

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