Work situation - "white" lies


#1

So, the company is a law firm dealing mostly with corporate law, but not only. The story is that today I was asked by another intern/trial period person (who’s been there for two months as opposed to my one week), occupied with something else, to phone and get some information about a client’s proceeding. The person suggested I introduced myself as the client or else the court clerks wouldn’t tell me, and that the law firm didn’t want to expose itself too early as supporting the client (who wasn’t accused but pressing charges). I said I wouldn’t introduce myself under a false name. I was answered something like, “I think I didn’t understand what you said,” and I explained I wouldn’t lie. Consequently, the amount of information wasn’t spectacular. I said, “Ask the guy to phone them or phone later when you have formal powers of representation,” and the reply was, “I’ll pass that on.”

Now I don’t exactly fear the consequences. In fact, they can go play in the railway track. However, I’m worried. That intern was a fresh law graduate and a new doctoral student and I doubt it was that person’s idea… must have seen someone do that, although certainly it doesn’t need to have been our law firm where the idea came from. Also, a lawyer asked me to try and coax some information out of court clerks (his powers hadn’t been handed in, he had an injured leg and the client lived far from there), didn’t ask me to lie, but told me to say he was injured, “which was true, by the way.” I felt bad. I may have overreacted, perhaps it didn’t mean anything, but I’m alarmed for some reason.

What could one do to deal with the situation? The intern isn’t a career-at-all-moral-costs type, it seems to me - the person urged me to find a convenient interpretation of the law to help out a person in a bad situation, while I was sticking by the letter. I did have a sad moment hearing the lawyer (the same one) say he’d go to a criminal court to retrieve the goods as stolen because a criminal court won’t delve into civil matters (intricacies of property transfer to guarantee the payback of a loan) and make problems - I’d feel much better if a civil court explained the ownership matter first before pressing criminal charges (even if no usurpation of property charge works without first giving the offender a couple of requests to return the property as yours, which he can challenge saying it’s not yours and then you just sue each other).

I think I’m going to stay and watch and if more alarming signs pop up, I’ll explain them with the bosses. I worry about the intern, however. I don’t want to rat out that person and all - after all, using a client’s name to get information about the case in which the firm is helping him is not nearly as bad as e.g. a monetary motivation to use a fake name… Some people would look at it as helping the client and would think that not doing it would be cruel. Therefore I don’t think it takes a large level of corruption to be tempted to do that. But I think a future lawyer, a future doctor of law, shouldn’t do such things. And I worry it may have been first used as a tactic by someone higher up the ladder - with or without thinking about the moral side of it.

What would you do in this situation? I’m thinking about posing a general hypothetical question to one of the firm partners and asking, “what would you do in such a situation? I would like to know your opinion.” Then if I don’t like the opinion, I know I need to look for another law firm.


#2

It may be that the intern was thinking: “We are representing this client, for whom we are speaking, therefore we are the client in this situation.”? If you have the permission of the client to speak for him, that should be enough to gain the information you need. Why wouldn’t the clerks give someone’s lawyers information they need for his case? :confused: Maybe you just need to understand where the law firm is coming from in their thinking?


#3

What constitutes a lie? In the world of law it’s all about wording. A woman who pretends she’s an underage pregnant teen who calls Planned Parenthood about her “situation” (lying about who she is and her condition) to find out information that is needed and/or used by a pro-life group to state what Planned Parenthood is really about, well, I don’t know if I’d have issues with that pro-life “liar” nor do I think that person was sinning (since the information provided by Planned Parenthood would be filtered had they known that she was pro-life and wasn’t a legitimate underaged, pregnant teen). I guess that maybe this is somewhat similar to your situation.If what was done was illegal, then there are problems, but if it wasn’t it may be just a matter of helping the client but having to manipulate the system (lie) to help?

Then again, I could be wrong (wouldn’t be the first time).


#4

But, it sounds like you were being asked to introduce yourself as that person…using that person’s name. That is lying. I wouldn’t have done it either. There’s no need to shortcut things in life. Ugh. I see it all the time in corporate America, too. Short cut here, short cut there…(in reality, it’s not ethical and it’s lying) Not a mortal sin, really…but, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you’re compromising your own ethics.

I would keep a little journal…with dates, of when you’re asked to do things like this, so if/when the time comes that you might be called on it, you can explain without hesitation, the truth of what happened. Everyone does put his/her own spin on things, you know? (I neeeeever said to act like you’re the client…?) Know what I mean?

Stick with your conscience. It will always serve you well.


#5

From the point of view of the client, that’s merely a form of representation and indeed, he’s not hurt in any way if he consents. I remember allowing someone to introduce himself as me on the phone when ordering something I’d be picking up or when using my online auction account. But I’d have extreme compunctions doing that myself. The last time I lied was in elementary school and I don’t want to change that. The problem here is that some regulations from the ministry of justice prohibit court staff from telling some information except to a party to the suit or trial, or representatives with formal powers filed in the court and we weren’t the latter (the firm was being silent about helping the guy, so I guess they were just telling him what to write).


#6

Gmarie, I wouldn’t have a problem with the Planned Parenthood situation even if it were illegal. There are some higher laws than state laws and war is war. No problem with military/police intelligence or journalists and their fake IDs. But in this case it was assuming the client’s identity in order to deceive court clerks who are forbidden from disseminating that kind of information to other people than the parties or representatives and we don’t live in a totalitarian regime. I said they should ask the client to phone and get that info and tell them what the court said, or receive formal powers and get the info that way. It turns out the intern wasn’t an intern but a junior employee sometimes winding up in the intern room. The partner for whom the person works, however, seems to be a solid lawyer and not one with weasel tactics.

Yesterday, however, some lawyers for whom I was writing down arguments for an appeal suggested “greying it a bit” if we don’t seem to be in the right. I told them if we were to be in the wrong, it would be better to tell the client it’s over instead of running him into further costs and endangering our reputation. They said we’d talk about the technique later, I said ethics too… just in a semi-joking manner as not to offend them.

Hmm… perhaps I’m in the wrong line of work. They’ve been raising the judges’ salaries for a moment and those folks don’t need to share the point of view of whomever pays them.


#7

Well, in your line of work you’ll come across attorneys who are jerks and liars and you’ll come across 100% honest attorneys. If you’ve never seen Liar Liar, watch it to see how honesty can work in the court of law (I’m talking about one of the final scenes) and still not be fair and just. The thing with law is that you truly have to look at all angles, all the ins and outs and try to defend your client. It does not mean lying, but it means being EXTREMELY literal (as laws suggest). My dad’s a judge and has been a locally well known criminal defense attorney and prosecutor. I have other relatives who are also attorneys so I understand technicalities. Unfortunately, there are judges and jurys who don’t care b/c they just want someone to be guilty. While, I’m not saying to fight like them, you must be prepared to have to argue against lying jerks and unsympathetic judges who have no compassion for anyone.


#8

Well, my ethics are such that I don’t have problems bringing up anything real in defence of my client, as well as pushing forward such interpretations that favour him, but I do have problems with the idea of pushing forward such an interpretation that I don’t agree with on a doctrinal level (I’m a PhD student and a lot into theory), let alone lying or even reserving some vital information. Sometimes it saddens me that it can be a matter of the wording, such as using statements like, “… doesn’t exclude the interpretation that…,” or, “it may be argued that such an interpretation overlooks…” instead of pure indicatives.


#9

Have you thought about other areas of the law, like a legislative drafter or lobbiest?


#10

Drafter wouldn’t sound bad at all, but the problem with such a job is that you’re apolitical, and even more so as a judge - another job I considered, while I hoped to run for the parliament when I’m done getting the doctoral degree and attorney rights (it takes 3.5 years of an apprenticeship you start after getting a Master’s in law, if you pass the entry exam for it - it’s pretty hard; alternatively if you have a doctorate you just take the professional exam and you don’t need to do the apprenticeship). Joining a Christian democratic party I could do something for the people especially as I’m sort of an able speaker. I could also be active in a pro-life organisation or something like that, which is impossible if you’re in the state’s employ and supposed to be apolitical. Lobbyist… no way I could possibly cooperate with businesses in pushing for changes in the law in their favour. :slight_smile:


#11

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