As a lawyer, it’s not unlikely that you will run into clients who have difficulty with honesty. This can make your job difficult as you need to take extra time to verify everything that the client says. There are many reasons why a client might lie, depending on the situation. It may be that they’re trying to paint their case as being more favorable than it actually is. In some instances, they may do this to try to get you to lower your fee. Dishonesty complicates things further by putting a strain on the client-attorney relationship; you may find that trust has been compromised, leading to an awkward relationship or the loss of the client.
Even if you catch your client in a fib, trying to confront them takes discretion and tact. Too callous a response can lead to fear, where the client is uncomfortable with disclosing information. In general, people don’t want to lose face, and embarrassment and shame can quickly escalate into a heated conversation where they become difficult and hostile, ultimately leading to a loss of the relationship. So, what steps can you take to ensure that your client is honest with you?
First, start by setting expectations and communicating the importance of telling the truth. This should be done right around when they are signing the attorney-client contract or immediately afterward. Your client’s personality and demeanor can dictate how you want to do this; there isn’t one singular approach to this. Depending on the client, you may need to be upfront and straight forward, while you might need to assure others that you take the attorney-client privilege seriously. Don’t shy away from transparency – if you need to, tell them about how lies make you spend additional time cleaning up the mess and that they will be billed accordingly. Tax attorney Steven Chung recommends that the best way to deal with a lying client is to give them every incentive to be honest.
Suppose, however, that you caught your client lying. How you approach this also depends on the importance of the lie. In the case of something serious, it will be necessary to disclose the damage that the lie has caused to the case. This can result in prolonging the case, lost credibility, or even worse, perjury. From there, take precautions to prevent this from happening again.
There is no easy way to handle this, and simply telling someone to be honest may not correct the behavior. The best option is to establish a relationship in which your client is comfortable with being open and communicative.