How truthful do you have to be with your lawyer?
By Michelle Volkmann, Vancouver Family Lawyer
Family law matters can be some of the most emotionally charged and sensitive situations that a person goes through. Whether it concerns parenting arrangements, support claims, or property division, the outcome of a family law matter can have a profound impact on the lives of both parties. Given the stakes involved, it is not uncommon for people to be tempted to exaggerate the truth or even withhold information to present their case in the best possible light. However, being untruthful to your lawyer in a family law matter can have serious consequences that could undermine your case and ultimately, relationship with your legal counsel.
The Professional Code of Conduct
The British Columbia and Alberta Professional Codes of Conduct (the “Codes”) set out the standards of legal ethics along with various standards on how lawyers are expected to conduct themselves when providing legal services to clients. The principles set out in these Codes dictate that lawyers have a multi-faceted role as ministers of justice, officers of the court and legal advocates. In their capacity, lawyers have a duty to promote the interests of the following parties, none of which replace the other:
- The State
- The Courts and Tribunals
- The Client
- Other Lawyers
In promoting these interests, lawyers are expected to act with honesty, integrity, and objectivity when representing their clients. The Codes also require that lawyers refrain from participating in any deceptive or misleading conduct, and that they take all reasonable steps to ensure that their clients are aware of the need to provide full and accurate information. Clients need to be truthful with their lawyer, which can be difficult if the information may negatively affect the outcome that a client hopes to achieve.
Being untruthful with your lawyer
Television shows depicting the solicitor-client relationship have long since created the impression that lawyers will go to any lengths to advance their client’s interests, no matter how ethically dubious, however this is not how lawyers conduct themselves under the Code.
An issue that lawyers sometimes contend with is when their client provided or omitted information contrary to what they have represented to the court. Once a lawyer discovers that their client has been untruthful, they are obligated to advise the client of the potential consequences and how this may affect their matter moving forward.
Upon their client’s instructions, lawyers present the necessary evidence and information to the court as they advance their client’s matter. In doing so, lawyers will not lie to the courts, nor will they present any evidence they know to be fabricated or misleading. If a client provides their lawyer with a false narrative, or withholds pertinent information about a material issue, this can severely damage the client’s credibility and negatively impact their case. For example, if a party has lied about their income or assets in their court filings, the judge may question their honesty and integrity, and may be less likely to believe their testimony on other issues. This could result in a judge giving less weight to their evidence, or even rejecting it altogether.
Another potential consequence of being untruthful to your lawyer is that it could result in a delay or disruption of the legal process. If a party has lied about a material issue, the other side may request additional disclosure or information, which could delay proceedings and add to the overall cost of the case. Your lawyer may also be required to take steps to correct any false information that has been provided to the court. This may involve filing an amendment to a pleading or providing additional evidence to correct the false information.
Apart from the legal costs incurred by your lawyer to file the corrected pleadings, the court may also award costs against you if your family matter was filed in the B.C. Supreme Court. These costs could include disbursements and legal fees that the other party incurred.
Understandably, the solicitor-client relationship is a crucial aspect of the legal process, as it is based on trust and open communication. In a family law matter this relationship is especially important, as it involves sensitive and often emotional issues. Lying to your lawyer can erode the trust that is the foundation of the solicitor-client relationship. If a client provides false information to their lawyer, it can compromise the lawyer's ability to represent the client effectively.
Under section 3.7-2 of the Code, if there has been a serious loss of confidence between the lawyer and the client, a lawyer may take the drastic step to withdraw as counsel. The commentary under this section further provides:
 A lawyer may have a justifiable cause for withdrawal in circumstances indicating a loss of confidence, for example, if the lawyer is deceived by the client, the client refuses to accept and act upon the lawyer’s advice on a significant point, the client is persistently unreasonable or uncooperative in a material respect, or the lawyer is facing difficulty in obtaining adequate instructions from the client. However, the lawyer should not use the threat of withdrawal as a device to force a hasty decision by the client on a difficult question.
Lawyers are bound by the Code, including the requirement to act with candor, fairness, and good faith towards their clients and the courts. Lawyers cannot participate in conduct that is deceptive or misleading, or that would compromise their professional independence or integrity. It is important to note that a lawyer cannot ignore their client's dishonesty. If they have knowledge of a material misrepresentation, they are obligated to take action to correct the situation, even if it means withdrawing from the case.
Full and honest disclosure
When retaining a lawyer in a family law matter, the best policy is always full and frank disclosure of all the material information. While lawyers fiercely advocate and advance their client’s case, they are not hired guns, nor do they act as a mere mouthpiece for their client. Failing to tell your lawyer the good and bad parts of your case could have devastating consequences, like those mentioned above. Clients should take an active role in their communications with their counsel, no matter how unflattering the information may be. Keep in mind as you engage with your legal counsel that they have seen it all. Your lawyer is not there to judge you personally, and they cannot share information without your instructions (barring some exceptions related reasonable grounds that there is an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm). The family justice system in Canada, remains a rigorous legal process in which lies are likely to be uncovered by the court. Tell the truth at the earliest stages of the process, keep your lawyer in the loop and allow your lawyer to inform you what it is you need to hear, which may not always be what you want to hear.
At Crossroads Law, we have a wide range of family lawyers with a multitude of skills who can help you with your matter. Their experiences and background are listed on their bio pages which is an excellent way to learn more about our lawyers. It can help you determine which family lawyer will make you feel comfortable in sharing all the necessary details of our matter to help you get the best outcome for your case. Book yourself a free 20-minute consult today to see who a good fit for you might be.