Occasionally, lawyers experience clients who struggle with being honest. Dishonest clients are not always intentionally trying to cause trouble. Sometimes, dishonest clients lie to gain sympathy or make their case sound better. A client may not even realize they are being dishonest. Alternatively, however, some clients may intentionally act deceitfully and attempt to trick you.
If a client’s dishonesty is not devious, you may find a way to manage with their alternative view of the truth or attempt to explain to them how failing to be honest may negatively affect their case. Their behaviour may stem from misconceptions they have about how the legal process works. As a result, setting an expectation of truth and explaining how the truth helps them can help rectify issues arising from dishonest clients.
If a client continues to act dishonestly, however, you should evaluate whether you can or should keep them as a client. Sections 3.2-7 and 3.7-2 of the Code review the context in which you may wish end your relationship with the client.
Dishonesty, Fraud by Client or Others
3.2-7 A lawyer must never:
(a) knowingly assist in or encourage any dishonesty, fraud, crime or illegal conduct;
(b) do or omit to do anything that the lawyer ought to know assists in or encourages any dishonesty, fraud, crime, or illegal conduct by a client or others; or
(c) instruct a client or others on how to violate the law and avoid punishment.
3.7-2 If there has been a serious loss of confidence between the lawyer and the client, the lawyer may withdraw.
It is especially important for you to watch for con artists. Trust your instincts. Clients may trigger red flags early in your client intake process, before you accept them as a client. If you have already agreed to act for the client, do your best to help your client within the bounds of your professional ethics. If the client asks you to engage in unethical behaviour, however, you have a duty to withdraw under Section 3.7-7 of the Code.
3.7-7 A lawyer must withdraw if:
(a) discharged by a client;
(b) a client persists in instructing the lawyer to act contrary to professional ethics; or
(c) the lawyer is not competent to continue to handle a matter.
Should you have any concerns about whether your client is dishonest or if you need advice, do not hesitate to reach out to the Ethics Committee at the Law Society of Saskatchewan.