The temptation to lie

I have heard it said, “First impressions are lasting impressions.” When people first meet and try to get to know one another, they typically will present the best version of themselves.  When I meet potential clients for the first time, however, I am mostly introduced to the downtrodden, dispirit, and discouraged version of themselves. They come to me hoping that I will be their salvation; that I will obtain for them the justice they desire; that I will help to bring order and equilibrium back to their lives; and that, somehow, I will help to restore their hope and dignity.

That is a tall order for anyone to deliver. Emotions can cloud ones judgment and desperation can lead people to make irrational decisions. I meet potential clients at possibly one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. At the initial consultation, I must evaluate their case and advise them of their rights, options and potential and likely outcomes.

Potential clients want to hear that you can deliver to them all the things they are seeking. They want to hear that you will fight for them and obtain justice for them in court. They probably imagine what their day in court might look like and how they will triumphantly and victoriously prevail. They want guarantees that the money they are spending will be worthwhile. They want certainties of promised outcomes.

Part of what I do is convincing potential clients to retain my services. I want them to hire me. The temptation exists to tell potential clients all the things that they want to hear, especially if you are a young attorney with your own practice in need of money. I have the ability to play on their emotions and take advantage of their vulnerability by promising them outcomes I know I am not likely to deliver. I could fill them with false hopes and then briefly mention that I make no guarantees immediately before they pay me and sign the retainer agreement.

Fortunately, my integrity and reputation is important to me. I truly care about the people I meet with, even though I do not know them. I am honest about my assessment of their case and tell them the truth. The truth can be very difficult to accept, especially if the truth is unfavorable to their wants and desires. I am not one to over-promise and under-deliver — a recipe for unsatisfied clients. I warn potential clients to be wary of attorneys who are willing to tell them what they want to hear and take their money.

I know that potential clients have decided to retain other attorneys because they did not like my assessment of their case. But what I may lose in potential clients pales in comparison to what I gain through the satisfied clients who are confident in knowing that no matter the circumstance, I will be honest with them and advocate for their best interests. I can build my practice on the referrals of those satisfied clients. Being honest at times when it is tempting to lie may be difficult, but it is the right thing to do.