Lawyers as Insincere (But Truthful) Actors
The Journal of the Legal Profession, 2012, vol. 36, p. 487
42 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2011 Last revised: 29 Nov 2014
Date Written: June 27, 2011
Lawyers are given license to suspend what philosophers have called sincerity conditions. We ordinarily take people as being sincere in their speech. They expect us to do so, just as we, when we speak, expect others to take us as being sincere. Lawyers, however, are given license to be insincere. They are trained to be simultaneously truthful and insincere. On the one hand, they are required to tell the truth in the context of legal proceedings. On the other, they are insincere in that they routinely structure their speech to lead others into drawing inferences that will serve the lawyer’s goals, whether or not those inferences reflect a fair assessment of facts or law. This paper looks at the distinction between lying and deception, and finds some moral distinction, but not enough to justify the conduct acceptable by the legal profession on moral grounds. The paper discusses aspects of our psychology that make us vulnerable to the kind of deception practiced by lawyers, and concludes by criticizing American legal education for not imbuing a sense of responsibility in young lawyers that should accompany the license to be insincere. While the article focuses on lawyers working in the American adversarial system, many of the observations and issues apply to lawyers working in other legal systems, as well.
Keywords: sincerity, ethics, deception, correspondence bias
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