This article was published in the California Lawyer’s Association Real Property E-News HERE.
By John S. Richards
“What does your Daddy do for a living little boy?”
“He’s a liar.”
“Don’t you mean ‘lawyer’?”
“Mmmmm, I guess so.”
I just love the 1997 film “Liar Liar” starring Jim Carey. The story is about an attorney who is a scoundrel…a complete liar. The thing is … his clients love him, his firm loves him and he completely rocks at his job. He is a super star lawyer because he lies all of the time to everybody.
His personal life is fraught with problems though. His awesome wife left him. The character’s son is continually disappointed because his Dad never shows up or follows through with his promises.
Then comes the trick. In a “Freaky Friday” type way, Jim Carey’s son wishes that his Dad would never lie.
It then becomes physically impossible for Jim Carey to lie from that point forward. It ruins his relationships in the firm. It ruins his client relationships. He cannot perform his job without lying. He is literally running away from himself.
I had no idea how much this film affected me until recently. Honestly, I should have known. Just ask my kids about “THE CLAW!” We had so much fun with that for years and I had forgotten it was originally from … you got it … Liar Liar.
I recently took a “train the trainer” class organized by the fantastically dynamic judges ret. Barbara Nomoto-Schumann and Judge Rohanee Zapanta. The class was presented as training for attorneys to train law students about a novel wellness approach.
As I understand it, the exercise is to list off your core attributes and/or values from a huge list of choices. The idea is that the practice of law puts a lot of pressure on attorneys. This pressure causes a breach between our core self and how we act in court or with a client or with opposing counsel. The more we, as attorneys, diverge from our core self the worse it is. We lose touch with ourselves and others around us.
The result is that many attorneys are in need of spiritual chiropractic work. We need to re-align our overworked professional selves with ourselves. If we are misaligned, we got stress, unhappiness, substance abuse, you name it. We are the “Liar Liar” attorney.
We have all had really stressful days of loads of confrontation. More than one attorney I know will have a drink at the end of those types of days. Add that up 100x and you may have a problem, Houston.
Based on this great presentation judges ret. Barbara Nomoto-Schumann and Judge Rohanee Zapanta and their volunteers, I put together this list and I put it on my wall above my computer screens:
- Open Minded
The idea is that these are my core attributes for which I strive. I literally look at it all of the time. When I am stressed or mad, I go back to this chart and search for how my true “I” would react to the issue.
It really surprises me how attorneys will lie and not care that they do.
In a recent case, we had an attorney beg for an extension because he tried to file an answer and it was rejected by the court. It ends up he never tried to file an answer. Next we got a meet and confer for a demurrer. Next we got a motion to compel arbitration. It was a ruse for him to file his other motions.
In another case, we had 6-7 revisions to a settlement agreement exchange hands between three attorneys. After all parties had signed, an attorney claimed he had never agreed one of the attachments. It was “snuck” in according to him. He then sought to unilaterally change the agreement and withheld a significant settlement check in the process. It was dastardly manipulation.
We are expected to act with good will toward our opposing counsel, but we need some semblance of sincerity.
The problem with liars is that if you are not truthful, how can anyone believe you? Associates and other partners rely on attorneys’ good names and reputations. Insurance carriers and insureds rely on firms to represent their best interests. It is a tremendous responsibility. Millions of dollars in liability rest on how we act.
Why does the system we are in support lying? Does it?
I do not know. But maybe there is an element of truth to “Liar Liar.” Maybe attorneys are paid to be liars. Maybe our clients pay us to lie, to take untenable positions and posture grandiosely over petty issues.
I think not. I do not support untruthful behavior and I ask you to concur. We are not a bunch of liars. We are trustworthy, ambitious, smart, insightful and many other positive things. This is what our venerable judges ret Barbara Nomoto-Schumann and Judge Rohanee Zapanta are trying to impart upon all of us. It is the fragmented reality of some attorneys that causes problems for all of us.
Come join me. Let us ditch the “Liar” model and embrace our true selves, our virtuous selves. I vehemently believe that is the only way justice will be found for us all. We have a high calling. Let us act like it.