Want to know a simple little secret for an awesome law career?
Sounds easy, but it’s not. In fact, every year a handful of new law grads will be turned away from the North Carolina Bar Examination because they lied on their application for admission. Others will be denied for not making full and complete disclosure of requested information.
And of those who do gain admission, an unknown number will be eventually disciplined – or disbarred – for lying to a judge, client or the State Bar.
So tell the truth. Be honest, even when it hurts.
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire
We all lie. Granted, some more than others. But we all do it.
We do it because it’s easy and because it seems to work. We do it to make ourselves look better. Often we do it without even being aware we are doing it.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology showed that 60 percent of subjects lied at least once during a 10-minute videotaped conversation. All were questioned after the interview. All were emphatic that they had been completely truthful – until researchers played the tape. Then their jaws dropped when they came face to face with their own dishonesty.
“People almost lie reflexively,” says University of Massachusetts psychology professor Robert Feldman. “They don’t think about it as part of their normal social discourse. We’re trying not so much to impress other people but to maintain a view of ourselves that is consistent with the way they would like us to be. We want to be agreeable, to make the social situation smoother or easier, and to avoid insulting others through disagreement or discord.”
Lying By Nature
All animals engage in deceptive behavior. It’s part of the survival instinct. But only humans are able to convince ourselves that we’re being truthful when we aren’t. We’ve all it seen it happen, perhaps in our own lives. We tell ourselves the same story over and over until we start believing it actually happened.
We even lie to ourselves about our tendency to lie. In a string of behavioral studies, experimental subjects swore up and down as to their veracity. But as soon as the testing begin, the lies started.
Some forms of lying – like paying someone a less-than-sincere compliment – seem harmless enough. Perhaps even polite. But even these seemingly innocuous untruths have an ulterior motive: to get others to like us.
5 Reasons Not to Lie
- People are more willing to forgive a mistake than a lie. If you tell a lie, own it. The cover-up is always worse than the crime. “We avoid punishment by fibbing about who scribbled on the walls with permanent marker, we get higher raises by taking credit for work tasks we didn’t complete, and we get love by assuring a potential mate that he or she doesn’t look fat in those jeans. When lying ceases to work (when the lie is discovered) and has more drawbacks than perks (your spouse won’t look at you after discovering your extramarital affairs) -- only then do some people tell the truth.”
- One lie leads to another. Once you tell that first whopper you put yourself on a slippery slope. At the bottom is professional ruin. Just ask Brian Williams or A-Rod or Lance Armstrong or countless others who have collapsed under the weight of their conflations.
- Telling the truth makes your life simpler. You only have to remember one story.
- Lying will get you disbarred. Being dishonest in communications with the State Bar is itself grounds for discipline, whether or not you’ve done anything else wrong.
- Honesty feels better. You sleep better at night. You smile more often.
So the next time you feel an urge to fudge, misremember or conflate, stop. Say nothing instead.
Your law life will be better for it.
- Live Science http://www.livescience.com/772-lie.html
- How Stuff Works http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/why-do-we-lie.htm
- Bronson, Po. “Learning to Lie.” New York Magazine. Feb. 10, 2008. (April 19, 2010) http://nymag.com/news/features/43893/
- Harrell, Eben. “Why We Lie So Much.” Time. Aug. 19, 2009. (April 19, 2010)http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1917215,00.html
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at email@example.com.