Just a Lawyer in Lincoln's Hometown

October 16, 2010

Relying on clients? Its allowed.

Filed under: Other Law I want to pontificate about — Chuck @ 12:15 pm
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Just read an article about a bankruptcy lawyer who at the meeting of creditors had to back pedal so fast he should have fallen on his butt. Turns out that on one of the forms his client had filled out under penalty of perjury , indicated that he had no personal expenses. When the trustee asked about it, he indicated that he lived with his parents. So the trustee opined that all of the client’s income would be available to pay his creditors. Now the client and the lawyer had to back pedal, and fast.

It’s obvious to me that the client was trying to game the system — or was so dense that he couldn’t understand the forms. In any case the lawyer should have seen that something was wrong. As lawyers we cannot simply be form fillers. If a client with a house, car, children, etc fills out a form indicating that she has no expenses, – the lawyer MUST question it. When there is a glaring error like that the lawyer and her staff have to raise questions.

But what about when a client says he spends $500 on food each month when in fact he spends $400? Or claims that there are no judgement against him, when in fact an unreported judgement exists in some other state? Or that she has disclosed all of her assets, when in fact valuable, but hidden, personal property exists? Is the lawyer responsible for these client mistakes (misrepresentations)? Does the lawyer have to spend all of his (usually) small flat fee searching high cost databases, searching the client’s home, or traveling to clerk’s and recorder’s office all over? I think not!

At some point lawyers have to be allowed to rely on the client’s assertions. Any lawyer worth her salt will tell, nay demand, that the client tell the truth. Clients need to be impressed with the fact that the documents they sign are signed under oath. Lawyers have to challenge anything suspicious and take reasonable precautions to determine that the client’s tale is true. But in the final analysis, a lawyer just has to trust his client.

Chuck from Watson Law, LLC

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