Full and Frank Disclosure

 In Fiduciary Duties, Fiduciary Duties and You, Practicing Law and Life

Of the three fiduciary duties that we owe our clients, full and frank disclosure is the most challenging. Whether it’s asking probing questions to better understand your client or giving difficult advice, full disclosure is at the crux of the attorney-client relationship.

It’s also a two way street. Talking to clients about problems with the case is never fun. Without it, though, how does your client make their best decision? Holding the truth back is a disservice. If they hold back vital information from you, your ability to advise them is compromised.

It’s our job as the attorney to make sure we have all of the important information. Clients don’t remember everything. Sometimes they genuinely don’t recall an important fact.  Other times, you have not asked the question in the right way. Or maybe it’s a topic that’s emotionally difficult. They’re not being fully forthright with you because they are not being honest with themselves. They may be filled with fear and anxiety – which are generally not friends of good communication.

Full and frank disclosure is equally important in any relationship in life. I can’t think of many times where my failing to disclose important information genuinely served the long-term betterment of the relationship. I’ve been afraid to say something because of its possible affect on the relationship. I’m concerned the other person may not like how I feel, worse yet; they may think less of me or reject me. Usually my fears are far worse than reality.

The same is true in your relationship with yourself. Full and frank disclosure is no less important in order to live your fullest life. I don’t know about you, but I have found myself running from truths I know about myself – some have been small, others pretty big. Not dealing with the truth is seldom in my best interest. It delays the inevitable and creates a false reality.

A relationship founded upon each person’s highest truths is not built upon avoiding what’s difficult. For a relationship to withstand the earthquakes and storms that make up life, it starts with self-honesty.

Full and frank disclosure is the first of the three fiduciary duties because it informs the duties of care and loyalty. What we chose to do, and not do, is in part based on what we know. What happens when we only know part of the truth? If we are not exploring our own truths or not being honest with ourselves, it effects the potential within the relationship.

I always tell my clients that no matter how bad the truth may appear, there is one thing worse – not telling the truth. It’s a tall order in difficult times.

When we are fully honest with ourselves, not only are we better for it, but the important relationships in our lives are as well.

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  • Jason


    One of the harder aspects of the job is describing to a client the weaknesses in his or her case. I’ll assume my communications should be better in this regard because those conversations are painful. Some clients refuse to acknowledge a case weakness. Some clients feel that I am negative, and some clients angrily tell me that those weaknesses will disappear if I “work harder” or be more “creative.” I once had a sophisticated client scream, “I don’t care what the evidence says, I know I am right.” She then directed me to figure out a way to win.

    On the other hand, some clients are more receptive to what I have to say. They are humble and thankful and insightful.

    I’ve come up with several ways to communicate better in these situations, but they are still hard for all involved.

  • Jim Dwyer

    It’s easy to tell the truth when it good news, isn’t it? It’s so much harder in both our professional and personal lives when it’s information that is not going to be well received. Telling a client something they are not going to like is easier than saying something of equal difficulty to a close friend or family member. When it comes to myself, I can avoid dealing with it for amazingly long time.

    Having different strategies to tell clients “bad news” is what I do as well. The most important, and often the hardest part for me, is to let them talk about their anger/frustration. When a client is talking angrily, I can feel my blood pressure rise and my ability to effectively help them starts to decline. I try hard to validated how a client feels. It allows them to “cool down” and tends to make it easier for them to deal with bad news. Clients who get stuck in a place of anger are the most challenging to work with. I recently had one that put me through my paces for the last 28 months.

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