February 26, 2015
After the third serious backfiring of a client lying to us, we thought it was time to illustrate how some of the old legal cliches are true in practice. Hopefully this will save some of you some heartache, but the stories are interesting nonetheless…
The first time around, one of our staff was acting for the Plaintiff in a major Supreme Court action that had been ongoing for several years, with a claim of several million dollars. Clear instructions were given by the client, and especially after several rounds of mediation and settlement negotiations, all there was to know was known, or at least so one thought… The hearing was scheduled for almost two weeks, although it was only by the second day that the Plaintiff’s case began unravelling. In cross-examination, several critical issues were proven to be untrue, and by the third day, it became almost completely irrefutable that the client had lied about dishonestly constructing a document that was critical to her case. In truth, she simply could not hold up against the rigorous cross-examination, which is usually the case when an assertion is untrue. Needless to say, it was clear that the case was an absolute loser, and the client could have faced severe consequences, including for perjury and otherwise if it continued. The problem was, both sides had been engaging firms of solicitors and very senior barristers for almost three years, so you can imagine the costs incurred by each. The other side had a huge case for the Plaintiff to pay their costs, and had all the bargaining power. In the end, we were able to work out an agreement that minimised the costs exposure to relatively nothing, and otherwise kept the client safe, but she lost all she had paid in legal fees and walked away with nothing.
In the second case, we acted for a cool young guy in a bit of minor criminal trouble. In the beginning, he had the opportunity to simply cop it and pay a small fine, with no conviction or other serious consequence. His parents were actively involved and helping him at each step of the way, and he was adamant that he was in the right and telling the truth. On the morning of the hearing, the Police served the brief of evidence. Sometimes this is legitimate in less serious matters, and there is not much that can be done. Right at the beginning of the brief was a document, signed by the client no less, setting out a version of events entirely different to his story, and completely defeating of his case. Again, we were able to throw him a lifeline, but the result was still worse than it would have been, and needless to say his parents were not happy!
On the third occasion, it became clear to us during a conference with our client that he was lying about an issue that was critical in child custody proceedings – drug abuse. This fact would not have only destroyed any chance he had of obtaining anything from the case, but it was so severe that, in the circumstances, it went against what we stand for.
Because of the back-tracking afterwards, it came to the point where we could no longer trust what the client was saying, and had to cease acting. We are not sure what happened in the end, but the result could have been that the client lost all chances of seeing the children and receiving any maintenance, for a considerably long time at least. Had we have known the truth, and especially from the beginning, we may have been able to put in place a Court-sanctioned solution that would have allowed for the necessary behavioural changes to be made with subsequent reintegration back into the children’s lives once safe and while preserving his rights and interests.
Further, we regularly get clients who are clearly lying from the beginning. Any good lawyer will know that these clients are too risky to take on, and acting for them can sometimes put lawyers in breach of their higher obligations. In criminal matters, lawyers can of course act when they know a client has acted in a particular way, which makes it even worse for the client, as all this does is put the lawyer off and minimise the client’s chances of success.
Ultimately, the writing’s on the wall: if you want a good result, find a lawyer you can trust, tell them the truth, and let them pull the strings!