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Dangerous clients: The risk to your law license in family court

Could your next family law client cost you your license to practice law?

Quite possibly.

Family court has an unflattering nickname among attorneys already. Some refer to it simply as "Liar's Court," in a dry reference to the fact that just about everyone involved in the cases that end up there seems willing to lie to get what they want.

Some do it because they're determined to get what they see as their rightful share of the family's assets or wealth. Some do it simply to punish the other party for past wrongs. Others are simply desperate to get the outcome they believe is right -- especially in custody cases.

However, no matter what lies your client tells, the odds are good that nothing will happen to him or her -- even though the court could charge your client with either contempt of court or perjury.

On the other hand, you don't have the same invisible shield that your clients seem to have. There are numerous traps you can fall into:

  • If your client lies under oath and you failed to exercise due diligence in regards to the truth, you could be accused of suborning perjury.
  • If your client is caught lying and the judge or prosecutor takes an aggressive stance toward him or her, your client could just lie again and insist that it was all on your advice.
  • If you didn't know your client was going to lie under oath, you can't immediately call him or her out on the lie -- you're obligated to try to get your client to do the right thing and willingly correct the record before you break attorney-client privilege.
  • Because you are an officer of the court, you can't allow a lie to remain part of the record. Despite the sacrosanct nature of lawyer-client privilege, your duty to the court is higher.

Ultimately, if you turn a deaf ear on a lie in family court by your client, you could be the one who suffers for it.

In order to avoid having to defend your professional license down the line, make sure that you have a frank discussion with your clients before you ever get to that stage about the need to respect the law and the integrity of the legal system.

Source: FindLaw, "Perjury in Our Family Courts: Family Lawyers BEWARE!," accessed Dec. 21, 2017

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