Lying to your attorney makes your case more difficult and more expensive

Posted Thursday, May 26th, 2016 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

With every contested case, I sit my client across the desk, look him or her in the eye, and give some variation on the following advice:

Whatever you tell me remains confidential unless you choose to reveal it. However what you tell me guides me on what goals to pursue and what evidence to seek. Telling me lies may lead me to initially provide more optimistic advice but it will be bad advice. I will counsel you to pursue goals you shouldn’t pursue, seek evidence that may not exist, and take legal and factual positions that will damage your credibility. There is nothing you can tell me that I cannot help you deal with–but if you tell me lies you ultimately hurt your case.

And then, a number of times each year, the client will look me in the eye and tell me bald-faced whoppers.

Every attorney, not just family law attorneys, finds this frustrating. Hiding negative information about oneself seems an endemic part of being a social animal. However it makes the case many times harder and many times more expensive.

The first problem with such lies is that they lead the attorney to provide incorrect legal advice and develop poor legal strategies. In a divorce case where the client denies fault, the strategy will be to deny the fault and discredit the other party. However, if the fault ground actually exists, this will be a horrible strategy–especially if there is substantial evidence of fault. Similarly, in custody cases where a client’s fitness is at issue, lying about these issues will result in a strategy of denial and discredit–again to the client’s detriment.

In both situations, the court and opposing party will be displeased by the lies and the unfair attack on the opposing party’s credibility. Favorable settlement is easier when the opposing party isn’t angry at one’s client, and few things anger folks more than unfair attacks on their credibility. Further, in these situations, the attorney will have spent time (which equals fees) and effort in trying to establish facts that ultimately will not be established. This is wasted time, money, and effort.

Finally, in relying on the client’s lies, an attorney will develop legal strategies that ultimately should have been different. A client denying fitness issues is a client who may be counseled to seek custody. A client with fitness issues will be counseled to seek supervised visitation and to fix the fitness issues. A client denying adultery may be counseled to seek alimony. A client acknowledging adultery will be counseled that this adultery acts as bar to alimony in South Carolina.

The second problem with such lies is that they reduce the trust necessary for an efficient attorney-client relationship. In theory, an attorney could continue to believe everything a deceitful client tells them. In practice, attorneys care about their reputations. Frequently providing false information to the court, even if the attorney is unaware of the falsehood at the time of presentation, hurts that attorney’s reputation with judges and opposing counsel. These attorneys and judges will place less trust is the information the attorney presents–thereby making that attorney’s job more difficult in future cases. Smart attorneys zealously protect their reputations. Therefore they will more thoroughly vet a lying client’s factual allegations before presenting them to the court. This process will add fees and create a somewhat adversarial relationship with the client.

An attorney doesn’t need to trust his or her clients in order to properly represent them, but it makes the representation smoother and more efficient when that attorney can. Lying to one’s attorney about big issues is a good way to damage that trust. In trying to save face such clients simply render their cases harder and costlier.

2 thoughts on Lying to your attorney makes your case more difficult and more expensive

  1. David DeVane says:

    Well said Greg. I will not tolerate a client deliberately lying to me. Not long ago I sent a client “packing” when she blatantly lied to me causing a failed strategy which was ultimately not only embarrassing to me but nearly fatal to her case. Life is too short and you are spot on about protecting ones credibility, respect and reputation.

  2. Two people you don’t want to lie to: (1) your doctor, and (2) your lawyer.

    Lying to one will inevitably lead to unnecessary pain, possibly some headaches, and maybe some gastric distress. Lying to the other will lead to more doctor bills down the road.

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