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Sometimes Lawyers Tell Clients To Lie, Sometimes Clients Say Lawyers Made Them Lie

by Carolyn Elefant on December 6, 2005 · 8 comments

in Dealing With Clients, Ethics & Malpractice Issues, Mistakes/What NOT To Do

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This piece, Tri-Cities Lawyer Arrested for Contempt (November 30, 2005), reports on a lawyer arrested for contempt for pressuring his client to lie at trial.  The laywyer was caught when the client presented the judge with the email exchanges documenting the lawyer’s advice to the client to lie – and her response that “I
understand that in defense cases you cannot always tell the entire
truth. I am just concerned that I am telling a complete lie.”

At the other end of the spectrum is this case, North Adams Client Loses Claim Against Lawyer (Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 4, 2005), where a client apparently chose to lie about the facts of his case in Bankruptcy Court and then sued his lawyer for malpractice, blaming him both for the outcome and forcing the client to lie.  The lawyer denied the accusation and the judge found that a client could not sue his lawyer
for his own decision to lie under oath.

The lessons here is don’t advise a client to lie in writing or in fact, ever! And the corollary is that you should be sure to document your advise so that you can’t later be accused of asking your client to lie.
Update:
We agree with the commenter below, of course, and changed the above to reflect that you should never, ever tell a client to lie, period!  That’s where writing can help too, because if you write an email like the one that the Tri-Cities attorney did and then read it over, chances are that you’ll  realize that you’ve stepped over the line.

  • anon

    Don’t advise a client to lie in writing?
    How about don’t ever advise a client to lie, period?

  • anon

    Don’t advise a client to lie in writing?
    How about don’t ever advise a client to lie, period?

  • Mchyette

    These things must be handled delicately.
    Go watch “the speech” that James Stewart’s character gives to his client (Ben Gazzara) in Anatomy of a Murder. Before the client tells him the story of the murder, James Stewart explains that that “if” someone were to act out of a sudden impulse, a defense could be made of temporary insanity. (I am paraphrasing of course.)

  • Mchyette

    These things must be handled delicately.
    Go watch “the speech” that James Stewart’s character gives to his client (Ben Gazzara) in Anatomy of a Murder. Before the client tells him the story of the murder, James Stewart explains that that “if” someone were to act out of a sudden impulse, a defense could be made of temporary insanity. (I am paraphrasing of course.)

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  • Danen S. Connell

    I have a question. My son & I were arguing about whether any defence lawyers would advise their clients to lie. Of course this does not sugghest that all defence lawyers would do so, but simply that it does happen. Lawyers, like doctors, policemen, hotel workers, teachers or anyone else can break the law, use drugs, cheat on their wives, be alcoholics, etc., therefore it is likely that there are some who would advise their clients to lie. My son says, “Nwever!” I think it does happen, albeit rarely. Who is most likely to be correct?

  • Danen S. Connell

    I have a question. My son & I were arguing about whether any defence lawyers would advise their clients to lie. Of course this does not sugghest that all defence lawyers would do so, but simply that it does happen. Lawyers, like doctors, policemen, hotel workers, teachers or anyone else can break the law, use drugs, cheat on their wives, be alcoholics, etc., therefore it is likely that there are some who would advise their clients to lie. My son says, “Nwever!” I think it does happen, albeit rarely. Who is most likely to be correct?

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