The Sum Total

 In Fiduciary Duties and You

Full and frank disclosure, care and loyalty are the three fiduciary duties we owe each client. Is any one more important than the other? The truth is, the total of the three are greater than their individual parts. If even one is taken away or not lived up to, then I have lost the most important dynamic in a attorney-client relationship: Trust.

My post in December, The Whole Truth and Nothing….., concerned a difficult conversation I had with a client. His injuries prevented him from working for over a year. He was no longer able to support his wife and two young children. Because his two doctors would not testify that his disabilities were caused by the collision, my advice was to settle. The only two people who disliked what I was saying more than I, were my client and his wife. Their decision to settle was extremely hard. The reason they followed my advice was because they trusted me. The truth of what I had to say might not have been heard over a lack of trust.

Trust is so simple and yet fragile. I know what trust feels like. It’s a gut feeling. When asked to point out why I don’t trust someone, that’s when the intellectual part comes into play. The answer will always involve one or more of the three fiduciary duties:

They did not tell me everything.

They have not done what they said they would do.

Looking out for me, or the relationship, is not a priority.

I wish it was as easy for me to maintain these duties in my personal life as in my professional life. Here is what I mean. A number of years ago, Jan and I moved into a house that she really loved and I did not. Because she was so happy about the house, I didn’t tell her how I felt.

After we moved, Jan could tell that something was wrong. When I finally told her how I felt, she was frustrated and sad. She only wanted to move into a home that I wanted as much as her. She told me that she always wants to hear how I feel, whether she likes it or not.

Even though I learned an important lesson that day, I still find myself struggling at times with disclosing how I feel. The hardest part seems to be admitting how I feel to myself. The funny thing is, the concern I have in not telling someone how I feel is pretty much always worse than reality.

Wondering if someone is truly loyal, or is being fully honest, is destabilizing. Whether it is with a client, or anyone important in my life, the three fiduciary duties are at the heart of all relationships. Without all three, trust is diminished and so is everyone involved.

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  • jennifer Jefferis

    Jim, Words you shared about trust could not have come at a better time for me. I had been let down by a friend and when I addressed the issue with her instead of acknowledging my hurt she tried to defend her position (which clearly fell into the 1=1=3 category in that she had not told me everything, and was not looking out for our relationship). Fortunately, I was able to hang in there with the issue and we got to the bottom of things. I’ve found I cannot compromise myself even when it means I could loose a friend. In the end we came to resolve. I am so grateful. Thanks for your words of affirmation and yes…it works in our life work and in our personal lives as well.
    Grateful, Jennifer Jefferis

  • Katherine

    This really hit home. You write what I feel as an attorney but can’t put in to words.

    • Jim Dwyer

      Thank you Katherine. I really enjoy writing the posts. I greatly appreciate your comment.

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