Why lawyers are not ‘liars’: Examining the truth behind the stereotype


 Mercy Kibet Jebaibai*

"Lawyers are not liars and cheaters; they are just creative problem solvers." – David E. Kelley

Have you ever watched a movie where lawyers are portrayed as scumbags who will lie to protect guilty clients? Or even worse, come across someone who randomly stated 'lawyers are liars' and that they have connections and backroom alliances with police officers? Lawyers are not supposed to lie to their clients[i]or else they will be subjecting themselves to the consequences.[ii] It is no wonder the lawyer's code of conduct[iii] which usually varies depending on jurisdiction, and ethics of the law profession abhors any form of dishonesty from lawyers. Why then are lawyers unable to shake off the 'liar' stereotype? This article seeks to answer this question.

Being in a learning institution where excellent ethical standard is requisite, I can confidently say that honesty and integrity are indispensable in the law profession. The way lecture attendances are handled, to the way examinations are conducted strictly; they all unanimously work together to depict the strong moral foundation of the great institution of Kabarak University. Every time I hear or come across a writing that depicts lawyers as liars, a part of me is disturbed. One question desperately looms in my brain, "Do we really have to enshrine ourselves in this misconception and just accept it as a fact?" Do we really have to bow at the feet of this disgracing statement as if we don't have a say about it?

The first reason why lawyers are not 'liars' is that they are not so by nature,[iv] but rather human beings who face challenges in their work.[v] Advocacy is not lying but presenting the best possible case for one's client within the framework of the law and ethics.[vi]Lawyers may encounter situations where they have to balance their duty to the client, the court and their personal values. They may also face pressure from their clients, employers or their peers to act in a certain way.[vii] These situations do not justify lying, but they call for understanding and passion. Lawyers can seek guidance from their colleagues, mentors or professional associations to help them resolve ethical issues and maintain high standards of conduct.[viii]

In 2018, the High court of Kenya imposed a fine of Ksh 2 million on lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi for perjury in court.[ix] This brings me to the second reason why lawyers are not 'liars';they are bound by ethical rules and professional standards that require them to act with honesty and integrity.[x] A lawyer can be sanctioned, suspended or debarred for lying in court or for falsification of evidence.[xi] Moreover, 82% of Kenyans support the rule of law and expect the President to obey the law and the court according to a pan-African survey.[xii] This gives the implication that Kenyans value the rule of law and expect lawyers to uphold it as well. Therefore, lawyers in Kenya are bound by the ethical standards and can face consequences if they violate them.

Thirdly, lawyers are not 'liars' since they are not only accountable to their clients, but also to the public and the legal system. Accountability is essential if systems to the rule of law are to be corrected.[xiii] Lawyers have a duty to represent their clients zealously and faithfully, but they also have a duty to respect the law. They cannot use illegal means to achieve their clients' objectives, nor can they assist their clients in committing crimes. They also have a duty to be honest with the courts and other parties, and to disclose any material facts or evidence that may affect the outcome of a case.[xiv] By fulfilling these duties, lawyers contribute to administration of justice and the public confidence in the legal system.

Advocate-client privilege[xv] is something that cannot go unmentioned. What does this attorney-client privilege imply? It means an advocate must keep confidential all information related to the representation of the client.[xvi] However, there can be a breach of this privilege in two instances as in the case of Manani and Mwetich Co. v Veronica.[xvii] First, where the communication between an advocate and client furthers an illegal purpose. Secondly, where the advocate observes that the client used the privilege to commit a crime.

To a layman, all lawyers are liars.[xviii] They tell lies, twist the truth, cut corners and do all sorts of unethical things just to present and win their case. In reality this proposition is totally wrong because some lawyers actually twist a particular case to favour their client.[xix] You need to be keen enough to realise that lawyers make their case based on facts, irrefutable facts. This is why when lawyers argue, they may be accused of lying by laymen because they try to present their argument from a different perspective which may be totally different from what the public might hold to be true. This is why people term lawyers as 'liars' simply because they believe that lawyers are always liars to save their clients.[xx] Therefore, the accusation that lawyers are liars because they defend criminals and the opinion that they twist the truth to get the criminal off the hook, is a stereotype from narrow-minded individuals.[xxi]

In conclusion, lawyers are not 'liars' as they are often stereotyped. It is unfair for lawyers to be labelled as serial liars just because people think "they repeatedly try to induce others to believe in the truth of propositions or in the validity of arguments that they believe to be false."[xxii] Doing so, in my own opinion, is inconvertibly tarnishing the practice of law. Therefore, we should steer clear of judging lawyers based on the negative portrayals in the media and popular culture. We should instead appreciate the work that they do and the challenges that they face. Lawyers should always adhere to the ethical principles and strive to embody their profession with honesty. They cannot do their job effectively if they lie, cheat and steal while also fighting for clients, whether victims or accused.

*The author is a second-year law student at Kabarak University.

[i] Lisa Lerman,' Lying to clients: The ethical rules prohibiting deception of clients', 138 University of Pennsylvania Law Review (1990) 681.

[ii] Kenyan Penal Code (No. 18 of 2018), Section 108.

[iii] Ethics for Lawyers| Horizon Institute, 'Ethics for lawyers' Horizon Institute, 4 August 2016-<www.thehorizoninsitute.org> on 1 October 2023.

[iv] Emmanuel Wadekuu, 'Defending my own: Why lawyers are not 'liars', GhanaWeb, 9 Febuary 2018, 3.

[v] Deborah Rhode, In the interests of justice: Reforming the legal profession, Oxford University Press, 2003, 41.

[vi] Wakeduu, 'Defending my own', 3.

[vii] Rhode, In the interests of justice, 41.

[viii] David Luban 'Lawyers as upholders of human dignity (When they aren't busy assaulting it),' 3 University of Illinois Law Review (2005) 91.

[ix] Republic v Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammed & another, Civil Case 39 of 2018, Ruling of the Supreme Court at Nairobi, 15 March 2019 [eKLR].

[x] 'What are legal ethics and professional responsibility?' FindLaw, 20 September 2023 -https://www.findlaw.com/hirealawyer/choosing-the-right-lawyer/ethics-and-professional-responsibility.html. > on 1 October 2023.

[xi] David Luban 'Lawyers as upholders of human dignity (When they aren't busy assaulting it)', 825.

[xii] Simon Templer and Paul Kamau, 'Most Kenyans seek-and find-justice outside formal court system', Afrobarometer, 16 April 2021-< https://www.afrobarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/ad442-kenyans_seek_and_find_justice_outside_formal_courts-afrobarometer_dispatch-16april21.pdf >- on 1 October 2023.

[xiii] 'Accountability to the Law', United States Institute of Peace, 10 February 2009 -<https://www.usip.org/guiding-principles-stabilization-and-reconstruction-the-web-version/rule-law/accountability-the-law- >-on 1 October 2023.

[xiv] LII legal ethics-Law.Cornell.EDU, 'Legal ethics', Legal Information Institute, March 2023 -<https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/legal_ethics>on 1 October 2023.

[xv] Evidence Act (No. 46 of 1963), Section 134.

[xvi] Evidence Act (No. 46 of 1963), Section 134.

[xvii]Manani, Lilan & Mwetich CO. v Veronica, Civil Case 63 of 2019, Ruling of the High Court at Eldoret, 17 February 2022 [eKLR].

[xviii] Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, 'Are lawyers liars? The truth about whether lawyers are liars or not', Bscholarly, 24 June 2019 -< https://bscholarly.com/are-lawyers-liars/>- on 1 October 2023.

[xix] Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, 'Are lawyers liars? The truth about whether lawyers are liars or not', Bscholarly, 24 June 2019 -< https://bscholarly.com/are-lawyers-liars/>- on 1 October 2023.

[xx] Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, 'Are lawyers liars? The truth about whether lawyers are liars or not',Bscholarly, 24 June 2019 - <https://bscholarly.com/are-lawyers-liars/.com> on 1 October 2023.

[xxi] Lawyers don't lie, 'Lawyers don't lie' Tekedia, 9 May 2022 -https://www.tekedia.com/lawyers-dont-lie > on 1 October 2023.

[xxii]Arthur Isak, Are lawyers liars? The argument of redescription, Cambridge University Press, 1998, 63.

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