Some clients want to tell their lawyer everything under the sun, using tens of thousands of words to express thoughts that require maybe a dozen. Some answer questions posed to them succinctly and clearly. Some don’t say much. Some lie.
The liar isn’t malevolent. He’s manipulative. Maybe he survived on the street by his wits, and can’t quite give up the tools that kept him alive thus far. More likely, he believes, as many do, that if he convinces his lawyer that he’s an innocent man, his lawyer will love him more and represent him better. It’s not that he views his lawyer as the enemy (though that often becomes the case as the lawyer is the messenger for a miserable system, and comes to personify all the client comes to hate), as much as he can’t quite bring himself to trust someone.
And so the lawyer asked the client questions, and the client responds. The lawyer knows that the client isn’t being forthright with him, and pushes the client. Sometimes, he even tells the client that he’s lying, and that his lies won’t serve his cause.
Do you really want your lawyer to be the stupidest guy in the room?
They can’t help it. This isn’t an intellectual choice, but an emotional one. The believe they can beat the system, outwit it, by lying to their lawyer.
It doesn’t occur to them that there is evidence that will prove the story to be a lie, and it will eventually do down in flames. It doesn’t occur to them that thousands, tens of thousand, of other young men have tried to lie their way through; they think they came up with this magical way to win for the very first time and no one has ever though to lie before. They think that their story, perhaps sufficient to appeal to a parent or spouse, will overwhelm a government that doesn’t love them.
And so the lawyer tells them, again and again, to answer the questions truthfully, so that he possesses the information necessary to confront the evidence against the defendant. Give the lawyer a fighting chance to develop a strategy. Give the lawyer the opportunity not to be the stupidest guy in the room.
And the client insists that he’s telling the truth. He said nothing, He did nothing. He’s pure as the driven snow. It’s all a huge mistaken, and the lawyer should just keep pounding away at his complete innocence. Even after being confronted with the evidence against him, the defendant persists in trying to explain it away, weakly, unpersuasively, but tenaciously. He will not give up. If he just stand firm, it will somehow work.
The lawyer shakes his head as he walks away.
Eventually, the time comes for a decision to be made. Plea or trial. Neither offers much comfort. The defendant looks at his lawyer, the defendant’s eyes misty, asking why? Why didn’t they drop the charges? Why are they being so harsh? Why didn’t the lie work?
It’s hard to say afterward how things would have gone had the client not pursued this course. Sometimes, it wouldn’t matter, as the evidence was so overwhelming and serious that there was no viable defense. But then, it’s often not a matter of guilt or innocence, but of degree. Information is the tool with which lawyers fight. Lack of information leaves a lawyer unarmed. An unarmed lawyer can’t defend you properly, despite his best efforts and intentions.
If a client insists on lying to his lawyer, then the lawyer is left with no option but to work with what he’s been given. If after being told that his story is a lie, he insists it’s the truth, there is little left for the lawyer to do than shrug and respond, “if you say so…”
This doesn’t reflect agreement or acceptance, but resignation. The client has convinced no one but himself. Any opportunity to gather contrary evidence is squandered as the lawyer takes a path that leads nowhere. His arguments evoke laughter from the prosecution, who holds out hard proof of the silliness of the lie.
As the options are presented to the client, the horrible plea or the hopeless trial, the initial tears are replaced by anger and resentment. “You failed me,” the client says aloud.
“You were supposed to win my case. You’re the lawyer. You were supposed to win. And now I’m going to jail forever because of YOU!”
If you say so.