This week a dear colleague mentioned that he would be interested in a blog post about the importance of honesty of clients with their attorney. I had to agree it is an important subject. If your attorney doesn’t know the truth, it limits their ability to help you.
I know, I know – insert the jokes about attorneys and honesty in the same sentence.
One wonderful bonus of an attorney is that anything you tell them, they cannot repeat. Therefore, you can spill every dirty secret, and they may never use it against you or tell others. Attorneys are the ultimate secret keepers!
Despite the confidentiality guaranteed to clients, clients are often not honest. Not because they are inherent liars, but because all people like to present themselves in the light most favorable. No one likes to be judged, and it is important that people feel accepted. When you feel like you have a secret that would cause people to lose respect and love for you, it is a hard secret to tell.
If you are in need of an attorney, that usually means a really unfortunate set of circumstances surrounds you. You choose an attorney to help you achieve the best result for your circumstances. The attorney must operate off your version of events, together with some information requested from the other party, and investigation. In the beginning. all we know is what our clients says.
Now suppose that your attorney doesn’t know the “real” story. They are operating blind and preparing for your case without all the facts. That is dangerous ground. An attorney can’t get surprised sitting at trial, as there is no time to prepare to defend the “new” set of facts.
As a student attorney, I interned doing death penalty cases. One of the first things the attorney told me was he always told clients, “You can lie to your wife, your pastor, your friends and children, but don’t ever lie to me. Only I can keep your secrets and prepare for your case. I’m here to help save your life.”
It doesn’t take many courtroom surprises to understand why he always started meetings with clients with that statement. If an attorney knows all the facts, good or bad, they can be prepared to address anything that comes up in trial. They will develop a plan to get around the issues or take the fire out of the not so flattering truths.
A veterinarian friend once told me, “If I had a room full of doctors and lawyers and presented them the same problem, the doctors would group up to solve the problem, and the attorneys would group up to figure out how to get around the problem.” There may be some truth to his statement, but most attorneys will try both. Some problems can’t be solved, but we may find a route around it.
Moral to the Story: Always be honest in reporting facts to your attorney, an outcome based on the truth is generally the best outcome. Let’s handle the ugly early, as Judges seem to take ugly truths better than pretty little lies!!