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ABA Journal

Language gives us ways to remain honest and tactful—and to preserve client confidences

Posted Jun 14, 2013 4:13 PM CDT
By Bryan Garner

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Photo of Bryan Garner by Terri Glanger.

In a poignant episode of David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal—a TV show in which lawyers frequently run afoul of ethical rules—a lawyer represents a man who seeks his son’s umbilical fluid, kept from birth, as his only possible cure for a terminal illness. His ex-wife won’t turn it over. In the course of interviewing the adverse party (the ex-wife), the lawyer learns that her client isn’t the biological father of his son, who was conceived during an extramarital affair. So the fluid can’t help. The father has an excellent relationship with his son—in fact, it’s the most important relationship in the father’s fast-dwindling life. So the lawyer lies to her client and says, sorrowfully, that the umbilical fluid was destroyed long before in a transportation mishap. End of story.

A good thing? Is it ever justifiable for a lawyer, acting in a professional capacity, to tell a lie? If so, when? I put these questions to 20 lawyers around the country—13 of whom considered it an easy question (never lie) and seven of whom considered it difficult and nuanced. The questions deserve exploration. First, some history.

Click here to read the rest of "Why Lie?" from the June issue of the ABA Journal.

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