To Tell The Truth
I have been told by my marketing guy that I need to write more blogs and articles. But as a busy lawyer both finding the time to write and selecting a subject that is neither boring nor self-indulgent is likewise difficult. Given today’s political divide and persistent focus on “fake news”, lying politicians, conspiracy theories, alternative facts, and various versions of “the truth,” telling the truth lately has become a precarious endeavor. I have prepared perhaps thousands of clients for either deposition or trial testimony over my almost Forty-year legal career and I always caution them to “tell-the-truth.” However, I never leave it there with such an obscure admonition because what does that really mean? I always go on to explain what the truth is and how you get there.
The truth starts with three simple words – “I don’t know.” To understand how to tell the truth about any given area or subject, you need to understand the scope of what you know. Like Michelangelo chipping away at every part of the marble that isn’t the sculpture of “David”, to get to the truth we all must chip away at what we don’t know to segregate those facts we can say with conviction we do know. Indeed, it is both liberating and encouraging humility to say the words “I don’t know.” All too often in today’s society, we are challenged by “know-it-alls” who are perfectly willing to fill any void of knowledge with conspiracy theories, made-up facts, or opinions that claim to be based upon undisclosed facts that never materialize. Truth be told, there is much about life that we still don’t know and there is nothing wrong with that. To disclaim knowledge is neither embarrassing nor a diminishment of one’s intelligence. It is merely an honest and valid response to a question.
Often the truth doesn’t come with clear boundaries or black and white demarcations, it can be fuzzy around the edges, much like many of our perceptions at times. There are some things we might be very sure about and others, not so much. Because we can only define the parameters of the truth by language, I question whether words like “maybe”, “probably”, “generally” and the like can really play any role in telling the truth. Yet because the language we use defines the truth we tell, our facility with the language all too often colors our version of the truth. I sometimes wonder whether the truth is more aspirational than absolute, more personal than participatory, and more subjective than objective, although such musings tend to make the truth a murkier proposition.
The truth matters because the truth is the bedrock upon which both the concept of justice as well as our system of justice is based, all of us, but certainly above all, we as lawyers, must always endeavor to align our actions and those of our clients with the truth. Putting aside the “two sides to every story”, skewed recollections, misunderstandings, and different interpretations that are explanations for variances from the truth and addressing those fanciful arguments, assertions, and claims that are patently untrue, we as a society, but certainly above all, we as lawyers, have an affirmative obligation to condemn and extinguish such notions to maintain the continued integrity of the truth as well as our system of justice. Although if you ask me how best to convince all my brethren at the bar how to do that, I will tell you “I don’t know”.
© David H. Charlip, B.C.S., Esq. 2021