Today’s special! LAW TACOS!
A recent thread got me back to thinking about one of my favorite things, the law, and, specifically, what is the one, single, thing I would tell every person when talking to their attorney. And the answer was very simple.
DON’T LIE. That’s your attorney’s job. Ahem.
Seriously, though. Subject to the reasonable caveats listed below, don’t 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. The attorney is, to use the sexist vernacular, your bitch. Or, 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. STOP. TELL YOUR ATTORNEY. 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. 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 like to occasionally pleasure yourself to the soothing sounds of ABBA is terrible, but the judge in your divorce isn’t going to care.
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 a car company.
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 minimize it). Your attorney can determine the best way, strategically, to present your bad fact. “Your honor, we all know my client killed orphans in his spare time, but we are here to discuss his amazing charity work. Let’s look at that.”
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.
E. The bad fact really matters. Let’s say there is something that will kill your case deader than the orphans 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.
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? Roughly, I think there are four typical examples-
A. “Ima smart.” The client thinks that this fact will particularly hurt his case, so he doesn’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.
B. “No one will find out.” In the immortal words of Hope Hicks, “No one will ever see those emails.” Not only will it be found out, but it will almost always be found out at the worst possible time.
C. “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 sex, they are a prostitute, not your significant other. If you’re paying someone to talk to them, they are an attorney (or a prostitute) 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.
D. “I don’t want my attorney telling people.” So, here’s the deal. Attorneys are not going to just “tell” other people. Attorney are like priests- but, maybe, with less molestation. What you tell an attorney, stays with that attorney. There’s all sorts of privileges and ethical rules about this, and it also forms the basis of roughly 1/2 of all Law & Order plots. So, don’t worry about it.
Good? So, as with anything coming from an attorney, there are some caveats. 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.
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.
*This true fact, that most attorneys understand the law, is not guaranteed to be true.