Don't Lie To Your Attorney, Because You're Paying Them to Lie for You

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
The discussions about how to pick an attorney had me thinking about the one, single, piece of advice I would tell every person to remember when talking to their attorney. And the advice is very simple.

DON’T LIE TO YOUR ATTORNEY. Lying is your attorney’s job. Ahem.

Seriously, though. Subject to the reasonable caveats listed below, never lie to your own attorney. Let’s start with the basics-

You are paying your attorney, either an exorbitant hourly rate, or through a contingency agreement, to work for you. YOU OWN THAT ATTORNEY. Um ... that didn't sound good. More precisely, the attorney is your agent. And your attorney can only do a good job (or, depending on how much you are paying, a mediocre job) if you tell your attorney the truth.

Here’s the thing- most attorneys understand the law.* So maybe you, the client, think a particular fact is “bad,” and you don’t want to tell your attorney that fact. STOP. DO NOT PASS GO. GIVE YOUR ATTORNEY $200 AND TELL YOUR ATTORNEY THE BAD FACT. Your attorney will have a better understanding of whether or not a particular “bad” fact is, in fact, a terrible fact, a bad fact, an okay fact, a completely meaningless fact, or, perhaps, even a good fact! And based on the attorney’s understanding of the law, they will be able to handle that fact and will understand how important that fact is to your case. There are numerous ways for your attorney to handle the facts that you tell them:

A. The fact isn’t actually so bad. Maybe you think the fact that your soon-to-be ex-spouse knows that you are the biggest Lionel Ritchie fan in the world is terrible, but the judge in your divorce isn’t going to care. A lot of the time, what a person thinks is bad fact is something that isn't that bad. Also? Lay off the Lionel Ritchie.

B. The bad fact doesn’t matter. A lot of times, a bad fact might not matter because the attorney will be dealing with procedural issues to get rid of the action, or the bad fact isn’t relevant to the legal action. Look, you think that the fact you were peeing on your neighbor’s yard every night is terrible, and it is, but it has nothing to do with your lawsuit against the company that sold you the lawn mower with the detachable blades.

C. The bad fact matters, Part A. Let’s say the “bad fact” matters- the attorney has a number of ways of dealing with this, such as “fronting” the bad fact (you announce it before the other side and can minimize it). Your attorney can determine the best way, strategically, to present your bad fact. “Your honor, we all know my client killed his parents, but we have to remember that he is an orphan. And it's not easy to be an orphan.”

D. The bad fact matters, Part B. Let’s say the “bad fact” matters- well, the attorney will be able to tell if that bad fact will ever come out, and in what circumstances. It’s quite possible that it won’t, if your attorney knows about it and can litigate appropriately in order to prevent the fact from being revealed.

E. The bad fact really matters. Let’s say there is something that will kill your case deader than the people you keep killing. A good attorney in civil litigation usually is doing a cost/benefit analysis while litigating; if the attorney knows the bad fact will destroy your case, they can push to settle for pennies on the dollar before it comes out rather than litigate it out. In criminal cases, this might affect the analysis of plea offers.

I could keep going, but the point should be clear. DON’T LIE TO YOUR ATTORNEY. So, the question arises, why do clients lie to their attorneys with the frequency of a dog licking its genitalia? You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Every practicing attorney has been sandbagged by their own clients, realizing (far too late) that the client was lying to them. Roughly, I think there are four typical examples-

1. “Ima smart.” The client thinks that this fact will hurt their case, so they don’t tell the attorney. Here’s the thing- you are paying good money to have someone else make that decision. Let your attorney help you. You may be smart, but why would you pay money to someone for their expertise and then not tell them what they need to know?

2. “No one will find out.” In the immortal words of Richard Nixon, “Installing a tape device in the Oval Office is a great idea.” Not only will it be found out, but it will almost always be found out at the worst possible time. With everything being recorded, and ESI (electronically stored information) being so prevalent, you can almost be assured that whatever it is, it will likely be found.

3. “You like me! You really really like me!” There are clients that want their attorney to be their friend, and like them. Here’s the thing- if you’re paying someone for intimacy, they are a sex worker, not your significant other. If you’re paying someone to talk to you, they are an attorney (or a therapist, or a sex worker- no shame) and not your friend. Your attorney will zealously represent you, regardless of whether or not they like you. Well, so long as you keep paying. You don't pay the attorney to be your friend, you pay the attorney to ruthlessly crush your opposition.

4. “I don’t want my attorney telling people.” So, here’s the deal. Attorneys are not going to just “tell” other people. Attorneys are like priests- but, maybe, with less of that icky stuff. What you tell an attorney, stays with that attorney. There’s all sorts of privileges and ethical rules preventing attorneys from divulging what you have told them, and it also forms the basis of roughly 1/2 of all Law & Order plots. So, don’t worry about it. Your attorney won't be blabbing about how much you love Nickelback.

Good? So, as with anything coming from an attorney, there are some caveats. The big one.... Don’t spout out off to criminal attorneys- if you are accused of a crime, the attorney will ask you questions, and you answer them. Don’t volunteer more, as it might affect the way that the attorney is able to defend you. Let your attorney lead you, and if you have any questions, make sure you ask about their duties etc. in general terms before volunteering additional information.

Second, there are a few exceptions (depending on the jurisdiction) to the concept that an attorney will keep everything secret. This is mostly true, but if you are planning on killing someone in the future- well, you need more help than an attorney will provide. Please seek it. And don't tell you attorney about future crimes and/or ask your attorney to help you commit a crime.

And that's about it. As always, there posts are meant to be somewhat informative, and somewhat funny (for the "law" approximation of funny). All of these posts are for general entertainment and edification, and you should consult an attorney in your jurisdiction if you have any actual law-like questions.


*This true fact, that most attorneys understand the law, is not guaranteed to be true. If your attorney received their JD from the Trinidad University of Low-cost Degrees, you might reasonably question their explanation that the First Amendment only protects your right to say "FIRST!!!111!!!!" in comments on a thread.
 
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Ryujin

Legend
On not telling your attorney the truth, see the recent viral video case in Judge Simpson's court, in Michigan. Attends pre-trial hearing, via Zoom, while driving, in a 'driving on suspended license' case. Video goes viral. Tells lawyer and court that his license was suspended for non payment of child support, which is a thing that's done in many jurisdictions when you fail to pay mandated support. Lawyer and defendant then take to both conventional media and social media, decrying the unfairness of it all. This also goes viral. Next hearing the judge states his own findings, which were also uncovered by The Prosecution; defendant has never had a license. In Michigan, as in many other jurisdictions, The State will 'suspend' your non existent license for non payment, so you cannot even obtain a license.

In fact, the defendant had also claimed that he was unable to attend the location in which he would have initiated the reinstatement of his license, during a specific period, due to being in hospital (IIRC). It was shown that he actually did go to that location in order to renew his Michigan ID card, which you can only have if you do not have a driver's license.

Things will not go well for this defendant, going forward. This will count against any claim of remorse, during sentencing. Also, he made his lawyer publicly look like a complete moron.

And there was much lamenting.
 


Ryujin

Legend
Lying to your attorney- including lies of omission- is like lying to your doctor. It won’t help you, and may actually cause more problems.
But trying to involve your lawyer in your criminal conspiracy can (SHOULD!) result in them reporting you to authorities post haste.
 


Ryujin

Legend
Admission of past crimes to your lawyer is one thing.
Admission of intent to commit future crimes is another.

This probably gets confusing for time travelers in court.
I would not work with a lawyer who would knowingly lie in court.

That said, I would not tell my lawyer that I was planning on going on a rampage through a shopping mall, with chain, shield, and broadsword, shouting out, "I'M CHAOTIC NEUTRAL!!!!!" He needs to be able to convincingly work on the non compos mentis plea.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
Admission of past crimes to your lawyer is one thing.
Admission of intent to commit future crimes is another.

This probably gets confusing for time travelers in court.

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MGibster

Legend
"We defend you when you're right and fortunately you're good at complying with the law and your internal policies. <pauses for a moment> But we'd defend you if you were wrong too." -- My employment law attorney.
 

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
Lying to your attorney- including lies of omission- is like lying to your doctor. It won’t help you, and may actually cause more problems.
I will say that this latter one is less cut-and-dry, despite what the producers of House M.D. might want you think, there are definitely certain circumstances and certain locales where lying to your doctor is good and sometimes necessary to actually get the care you need.

You also should never, ever, lie to the police, but that's more of a function of the fact that you should never, ever, talk to the police (at least in the US).
 

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