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What to Do When Clients Lie

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

No one likes clients who lie -- at least, not one the ones who lie to their lawyer. When clients lie or fail to disclose necessary information, they make it hard for lawyers to do their job.

When a client's lie is discovered, it can raise messy ethical, profession and practical issues for the lawyer. Here's what to do, and what not to do, when your client's pants catch on fire.

First, Don't Run to the Press

To illustrate the difficulties that can arise when a client lies, the criminal defense blog Simple Justice recently took a look at the case of David Aylor. Aylor is a young South Carolina lawyer who had the misfortune of representing Michael Slager, the police officer who allegedly shot and killed Walter Scott. Aylor presumably was not informed that Slager had shot at Scott eight times as he fled, or that Slager may have planted evidence to justify the killing afterwards. Instead, Aylor diligently represented Slager's version of events to the public and press, who then turned to him when video of the incident showed that Slager had been lying.

How's an attorney to react when a client lies so egregiously? Well, Ayer dropped Slager -- and then he went to the press to tell "his side of the story." So much for that duty of confidentiality thing.

Do Remember Your Professional Obligations

If you're lucky, a client's lie will be detected early on in a matter. In such cases, remind your client that his lawyer shouldn't be the least informed one in the room. When clients lie to their counsel, they set their lawyers up to be blindsided by the opposition.

If you're not lucky, the lie may be unearthed well after it's on the record in a deposition or trial. Here, things get complicated. A lawyer has an ethical duty to the court to "take reasonable remedial measures" if she has offered false material evidence -- and, according to the ABA, that includes evidence offered in discovery. So what measures can be taken? Private remonstration counts, as does providing supplemental answers to the opposition.

You May Need to Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

If the client refuses to resolve the problem on his own, the lawyer must act so that she is not assisting in the client's criminal or fraudulent behavior. This might mean withdrawing from representation, but it can also require additional disclosure of information that would otherwise be confidential -- to the court or opposition that is, not to The Daily Beast, Mr. Aylor.

Of course, the best way to deal with lying clients is avoid them in the first place.

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