Is it Malpractice When a Lawyer Lies?
An old joke asks, “How can you tell if a lawyer is lying?” The answer: “His lips are moving.”
Lawyers have acquired a bad (and often undeserved) reputation for falsehoods, in part due to misbehavior and in part due to the lawyer’s legal and ethical obligations to represent clients zealously–an obligation that often requires attorneys to express themselves, and the facts, in a light most positive for their clients. In other words: attorneys are not always lying, and many do not lie at all.
However, lawyers may be held liable for making knowing misrepresentations of material facts, and this liability applies to non-clients as well as to clients.
Zealous negotiation and argument are part of representing clients. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to make the strongest possible arguments (and negotiating points) on their clients’ behalf. That said, when a lawyer commits intentional fraud–either by deliberate lies or through concealment of material facts–the lawyer may be held legally liable to people who suffer injury as a result.
THE ELEMENTS OF FRAUDULENT MISREPRESENTATION BY ATTORNEYS.
In order for a court to hold a lawyer liable for fraudulent misrepresentation, the non-client plaintiff will have to prove all of the following:
1. The lawyer lied about (or concealed) a material fact.
2. The lawyer intended for the injured plaintiff to rely upon his or her wrongful conduct.
3. The plaintiff did rely on the lawyer’s misrepresentation–and the reliance was reasonable, under the circumstances.
4. The plaintiff suffered injury as a result.
If any of these elements is missing, the plaintiff will not prevail.
Proving that an attorney intentionally misrepresented material facts, with intent to cause reliance, can be complicated–especially in situations involving intense or protracted negotiations or litigation. This is especially true for non-lawyers, who may not fully understand the nature of the lawyer’s obligations to his or her client (as well as the ethical considerations involved in the revealing or withholding of information). That said, sometimes attorneys do engage in irresponsible or inappropriate conduct, and if you believe a lawyer intentionally withheld information that you had a right to know, or tried to trick you into accepting a contract, legal settlement, or other compromise of your legal rights, contact an experienced attorney immediately. You could lose your legal rights if you delay.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Malpractice (professional negligence) claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who represented you, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.