Clients are F’ing Liars: Dealing With A Client’s Knowing Omissions

It’s Monday, which means I should have spent my weekend working on a nice post for you guys and digging into a post for Wednesday, leaving me free to come up with and post something for this week’s Friday entry. What I did instead was drink copious amounts of Sour Monkey from Victory Brewing Company, then wash all of that down with half a bottle of Booker’s bourbon while playing games on my new computer. The end result is I don’t really have shit for you today, and trust me, I felt bad about it.

I mean, when I started this site the whole idea was to post something three times a week. Multiple times now I’ve failed to do that. I’ve gotten busy, or fallen behind on shit, and decided that the blog entry is the last thing I needed to be worrying about. Some of you out there are saying “Oh, Boozy, don’t worry about it man! We know that sometimes you’re going to be busy or overwhelmed, it’s cool to take a break every now and again.”

No, motherfuckers, no it isn’t. Because that would make me a liar, and I fucking hate people that lie to me about shit. You know why? Because I have to deal with clients, and clients lie all the fucking time. Those assholes are giving me money to help them and they lie about shit.

And look-ee here, just like that I have a reason to be a salty bastard this early in the morning: Bitching about clients that lie.

Which is every client.

Because all clients lie.

Why Do Clients Lie?

Man, why does the fucking sun rise in the East? It’s just the way it is. The moon comes out at night, the sun is a ball of burning gas, the Cubs finally won the fucking series again, and your client is going to lie through their teeth to you. We don’t fight the laws of nature, buddy. We fight the laws of man.

In seriousness, who really knows why clients lie. Sometimes they feel embarrassed about being caught have sex with a prostitute while wearing an adult diaper in a motel room surrounded by crack when they said they were running out for milk. Maybe something they’re leaving out would tarnish their reputation or image. Maybe the client differentiates between what’s “relevant” and what isn’t in their mind, and gives you only as much information as they think you should know. Shit, sometimes the client may be scared that if they tell you the truth, you’ll refuse to take the case or judge them. Who knows why clients lie directly to you. Clients are as mysterious as the depths of a bullshit river.

Why Does It Matter If Clients Lie?

Give me your fucking law license right the fuck now.

An attorney-client relationship is a relationship built on trust and communication. If your client doesn’t trust you, you’re increasing the likelihood of a simple matter turning into a shitshow to end all shitshows. If your client is making determinations regarding what you need to know in order to provide effective representation and purposefully omitting shit because they think it’s “too personal” or not relevant, you can’t prepare for it. You ever been in front of a judge, or at a deposition, and had something come flying out of left field to knock you upside your fucking head as you turn slowly to give your client a fucking death glare? I have. it isn’t fucking pleasant.

Clients tend to forget that a good chunk of our job is to do damage control as well. We can’t fucking do that if we don’t know what the damage is. I recently had a client get asked about an affair in a deposition. I’d never heard of this before, and my client had thought it “too personal” to mention to me as he sued the person he had told about the affair. Luckily I got my feet under me fast enough to object and instruct the client not to answer, but it flustered the client and it flustered me, because here was a piece of information about my client the opposing side knew but I fucking didn’t because my client decided it wasn’t “relevant” to the case. He was right, of course, it wasn’t relevant to the case…but that’s a fucking legal determination that I get to make as the goddamn lawyer, not one my client gets to make as a layman.

We can’t provide effective representation when it turns into dancing through a minefield. I’m a good dancer, and I can manage the minefield, but I first have to have some goddamn clue that I’m even in the minefield to begin with.

What Can I Do To Make A Client Tell The Truth?

Learn voodoo, enchant the client, and make them talk.

Short of that, you can’t. What you can do is make sure the client understands that there are going to be some fucking consequences to lying. I open most representations with a variation of this phrase:

I can’t represent you effectively if I don’t know what’s happening. I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to help you, but I can’t help you if I don’t know everything that can come up. I can handle almost anything if I know what I’m looking for, but I can’t do much if the first time I hear about something is in front of the judge. So, that in mind, I need you to understand that you have to be completely and absolutely honest with me.

Establish that trust right then and there. You aren’t snooping, you’re telling the client that they have to tell you shit in order to help them. Some clients will take it to heart, others won’t.

Also, stress that there’s very few times you have to reveal something a client tells you. Make sure your client understands the limits of what you can and can’t do, but encourage them to view you as a lockbox of information that could potentially impact their case.

Anything Else?

Yeah, real fast.

Cross-examine your fucking clients. We’re lawyers. We should be able to smell bullshit like a fat kid smells cake. Still, so many fucking times I see lawyers getting blindsided by a client’s “little white lies” or “knowing omissions” because they didn’t listen to their lawyer sense tingling and ask more questions.

If something about a client’s story feels off, you need to fucking push on that point. You need to dig deep and make the client, or prospective client, uncomfortable. You need to keep pulling on that goddamn thread until the whole fucking tapestry falls apart. Fuck the sensitivities of the client, do you think opposing counsel is going to be “sensitive” to them? Hell no. It’s going to come out at some point, because that other lawyer has the same fucking “spidey sense” you do. They’ll know when something’s rotten in Denmark, and they don’t give two shits if the client is uncomfortable.

Will you lose some clients doing this?  Sure. But do you want a client that’s willing to endanger their own case to keep their perversions or bad acts out of the knowledge of someone whose job is absolutely keeping their fucking mouth shut about them?

What Do I Do When The Client Lied?

Fire their ass.

Seriously.

Fire their ass.

But before you do, analyze the impact of the lie. Is it case ending or merely “bad”? Can you spin it? Can you rehabilitate the client? If so, don’t fire them…but definitely schedule a meeting with the client where you call them a fucking idiot.

I’m not mincing words. Literally call them a fucking idiot. Read them the riot act and finish it with “You almost blew your case. If I find out you lied to me about anything else after this meeting, I’m going to move to withdraw and you’re going to need to find a new lawyer.”

At the end of the day, either the client comes clean or they don’t. It’s your reputation on the line, though. Not the client’s. And if a client doesn’t take their case seriously enough to make you aware of everything you need to know, it’s not a client you want in the first place.

Conclusion

It’s a sad fucking fact of the legal profession that nobody likes or trusts lawyers, and that clients lie. But at the end of the day, you can’t do shit about people being fucking idiots. Clients will always lie, and lawyers will always be surprised about those lies.

The best we can do is to try and find out everything we need early on, and to minimize the impact an idiot can have on their own case.

-BB