Honesty is the best policy. That saying has been around for as long as I can remember, and probably long before that. However, the reality is, when it comes to a relationship with you and your attorney, this is absolutely the truth and it does not matter what time of case we are talking about.
Many clients have concerns about being honest with their lawyers. I have heard prior defense lawyers where really working for the state, that the old attorney gave up privileged information to adverse parties, and more. Let’s address privilege first. Communication is protected by Attorney client privilege when a person, speaks to an attorney or someone who they reasonably believe is an attorney, for the purpose of gaining legal advice. This means if you speak, email, Facebook, or otherwise share information with a person, you think is an attorney, they are not allowed to repeat that information.
There are very few times an attorney can break this privilege; if you tell them they can share information they can only share what you agreed to be shared, they are being sued for malpractice (but only information directly related to the malpractice can be shared), or someone’s life is immediate danger. I have had questions about what constitutes immediate danger, and there is one example that sticks best in my mind. If a client informs an attorney that the client killed someone, someone else was wrongly convicted of that murder, and that person was sentenced to death, the attorney cannot break that privilege until a death warrant is issued and the wrongly accused is about to be executed. We must reasonably believe that harm to themselves or someone else is immediate.
Why is it important that you disclose everything to your attorney? Regardless of whether it is a trial, custody hearing, equitable distribution, or something else, all of these actions are a giant chess board where each attorney is jockeying for the best position. The better position we have, the better resolution we can get for you. If there is something in your past, if an attorney knows about it, there are ways we can mitigate the past issue or make so it is not relevant. However, if we are blindsided by something, we have to try and fix the issue on the fly.
Here are a couple of examples. You were charged with a crime five years ago, but the case was dismissed. This is information is not admissible, but the opposing attorney may try to get it in. If I know nothing about it, it can make it harder to object, because I don’t know you it was dismissed. Maybe it was a felony and plead to a misdemeanor. That may be an improper question, but the opposing attorney is going to lead with the felony information which may be admissible. All of these can hurt your case, and it prevents us from getting ahead of the problem. Openly addressing an issue also keeps your credibility if you testify in your case. It allows you to explain your side of the story and shows that it is no longer an issue.
An honest relationship with full disclosure is best for the client. We are obligated to keep that information protected and can lose our license if we don’t. IF you need an attorney for family law matters, criminal law matters, or a DWI call an attorney who you know you can trust; contact us at 919-591-2240.