Truth, lies and unhappiness.

And so it resumes… the commute through wilderness to work; the daily grind of other people’s problems and the challenge of finding acceptable resolutions; the weekend dash through supermarkets and the planning of meals; the kerfuffle of family life.

The post-festive hangover spoiled last week. I reeled from Monday to Friday resenting even the short days I worked and hating the commute.

That last dismayed me because for such a long time the Lang Whang road has been my weekly salvation. Calling on me from antiquity, reminding me – matter-of-factly – of the littleness of my concerns.

But last week the prehistoric middens and cairns just irked me; Carnwath’s bald, pudding bowl motte and baillie irritated with its failure to retain even just a hint of what the castle looked like; and in the mizzenly rain, the ghostly ancestors were welcome to their hunting and gathering.

Back in the office, I found that Xmas and New Year had done nothing to improve the cases which had populated every waking and working minute of December and November 2013.

Some even managed to plumb far deeper depths than I could ever have anticipated prompting a volley of fff’ing and blinding. I’ve not lost my sweary touch.

I thought I was beyond that kind of surprise. Arrogant stupid me.

It’s a fatal flaw, in this game I’m in, to ‘buy’ your clients’ narratives too well – to allow human sympathies to obscure judgement. But… in different cases I allowed myself to fill in the ‘blanks’ in my client’s case with my own lazy, short-hand assumptions – assumptions that fitted with their narrative.

I didn’t immediately cross-check anomalies. I had wanted to believe my clients. I had wanted to believe that picture I had in my own head of them and their situation.

Argh! I could thump myself. I personalised the cases. I wasn’t objective. I wasn’t thorough. I accepted too much and questioned too little.

But the blanks were filled in last week when I finally took the time to dot my i’s and cross my t’s.

The result’s are the same: the final client meeting was unpleasant and I’m no longer providing representation (I withdrew).

None of which sounds that terribly bad or unusual when I see it written down…

So what is it about what happened that has me thinking like this on a quiet cold Sunday in January? Why have these cases carved themselves on my psyche?

The people involved are strikingly different. Think: wannabe-Arnie Schwarzenegger versus Mr Bean different.

But in one important way I realise now that they are very, very similar.

They told lies. Probably white lies at first. Tiny little lies about why they thought the way they did. And then the white lies required bigger lies to back them up. And then the falsehoods took on a life of their own and started to drive action. The lies started to take over – the lies were in the driving seat. The lies resulted in behaviours that wouldn’t have been required if the little lies hadn’t been told in the first place.

We all lie. We all tell the odd porkie. Falsehood can be a face-saver; a kindness; the social grease. I’ve lied. I lie. I make every effort now to minimise the occasions when I lie. I also know that there are places, times and situations in which I would not lie and that if ever I’ve been ‘found out’ I’ve always ‘owned up’ and accepted responsibility and any approbation. But that doesn’t erase my transgressions.

And there’s the rub. That when we lie, we transgress.

Lying is one of our most despised habits. Show me a liar unmasked and I’ll show you someone contemptible: pitied perhaps, but feared and despised.

So, what does it mean for someone to lie about the big things? For someone to create an entirely false back catalogue of life experiences? To create a partner; children; holidays; deaths; careers?

You have to be very unhappy with your life to do that, don’t you?

You have to be very unhappy with your reality – with the person you perceive yourself to be – to do that.

Most unsettling of all, what does it mean when an individual – one who has been found out in a lie – continues to insist that their lie is true and that they haven’t lied at all?

I’m rattled by it all.

I think that the lies told here were about attempts to make reality fit the longed-for life. To ‘become’ (at least in the eyes of others) the person they wanted to be. They were about an initial attempt to boost the lowest self-esteem. Or to ‘fit in’. Or to attract attention and sympathy.

Instead, the lies which have been told have led to the loss of everything that socialises. In one case, I suspect that the lies told will have to be ‘justified’ if a close domestic relationship is to continue – cognitive dissonance will come to the rescue. In another, I suspect that medical help will be required. And in yet another I can imagine that I will be blamed and alternative help sought.

I did try my best. In the final meetings I gave many opportunities – face-saving opportunities – for the client to be truthful. One seemed to own up – but then made it clear that they expected me to continue with the same defence – despite knowing what I now knew. That’s a no-go. One seemed more concerned that a witness they had cited in their support now might know that they (the witness) had been lied to.

It’s back to the Monday grind tomorrow.

I cannot help wondering what tomorrow will hold for my lying, former clients. I cannot help wondering how many are still to be found out.

15 thoughts on “Truth, lies and unhappiness.

  1. I think that so much of what you have just said is what made me realise that when I read law and studied for the English Bar (which of course all became quite irrelevant when I moved to Scotland all those decades ago) why I would never end up completing my law studies and practising law and why I changed direction.

    Being a lawyer and having a social conscience are not incompatible: they are just hard to reconcile a lot of the time.

    I've deleted the rest of my comment. It became too convoluted; too much a defence of advocacy (which society needs) and too much a statement of the dilemma advocates find themselves in (which you have already made) and why the expectations of those who employ and are the raison d'être for advocates are so rarely met.

    I hope things improve for you.

  2. Not good to go back to….

    I didn't really meet that problem in my line of work: it was all too clear who people were and what their roles were, though, of course, their views of incidents, of background, would differ.

    I do the white lies…of the type of replying 'nothing important' when asked what happened when to explain the whole thing would be pointless….but I do try not to do more than that.

    I had a woman in France tell me that I couldn't be a lawyer as she just could not picture someone so dumpy and ordinary as being one: goodness only knows what she was expecting – a female Dracula perhaps?
    Or did she want an examination in chief over the tea and cakes….

    Of course you would have to retire from a case if you are made aware of facts which make your line of defence impossible to maintain…but don't expect a layman to understand why, particularly one with the problems you describe.
    Clients cling to you like a marsupial to its mother….

    You need a holiday away from it all!

  3. That's just it, isn't it Helen – there's perception and then there are lies. You and I can accept that there are at least two different ways of seeing the same incident/s (and it's our task to make our client's view the more probable). What has struck me so forcibly here is that there are ways of seeing things and then there are deliberate acts and omissions intended to mislead or misrepresent.
    It was my naivety (maybe that's the right word – but maybe the correct descriptor is laziness) that I a) wanted to believe what I was told and b) accepted the veracity of the background investigatory work that was mandated to me.
    I also can't comprehend the effort that has gone in to weaving alter-lives. What was wrong with the real lives that people had?
    That woman in France! How breath-takingly rude and strange! But it's an odd thing – the image that people have of lawyers. I know that I intimidate some folk – just by dint of breathing. I disappoint many more I've no doubt!
    Years ago I remember a woman begging in Glasgow Central Station – it was a Saturday, I was a law student on my way home from p/t shop work in a posh dress shop – she and I started talking. We'd been talking for a wee while when she looked me up and down and said 'you're a lawyer, urn't ye'. I wasn't. I don't know what she saw – other than I was wearing a smart mac and black court shoes. It discomfited me – was I 'marked'?… Anyway I changed – Child Protection changed me. In the end folk thought I was a social worker. How many personal prejudices do we betray when we allocate a job to a stranger?
    The next few weeks should be easier (I don't have the tribunal cases for a kick off!).
    I do like that marsupial analogy. It is so true.

  4. Thanks Graham. It'll all be fine now – mostly because I've learned my lesson and because my workload is now lighter… 😉
    The MSc has sealed my doubt about what I should be doing with the rest of my working life. I don't much like law in action… I much prefer theories and philosophies… I like disappearing into words and pulling apart critiques. I'll be moving on – maybe not in the short-term but certainly in the mid-term.

    You are right though – advocates are essential. Advocacy is honourable. It's just not the job for me – or the defence role isn't for me.

    Of course it's not for me to determine guilt (!) – but when you realise the defence you thought you had is a complete charade, it is a bit demoralising and it starts to make you cynical and you end up doubting everyone… Argh!

    Hope all well in NZ. Will catch up via gmail. Yx

  5. Oh Yvonne this sounds so tough from my foggy domestic writer's world.. I deal with people as little as possible and don't think I could depersonalise my relations without a lot of training. People in Italy drive me nuts because they flaunt every law that exists just because we had a leader who made a sport of it. Hypocrisy, lies, I have no time for these – even though I'm guilty of quite a few relationship lies myself! Hope you're well, here just truckin' xxcat

  6. Hello mrs. 'Just truckin' sounds like perfection!
    Mind it was catharsis of a sorts posting the above – I feel 'better'. And anyway, this type of job means that any issues tend to be intense at the time – but it's an intensity that passes very very quickly because there's always some new person/thing to deal with.
    The 'up'? That I get long long holidays. Planning 6 weeks in Spain this year – just sifting through the airbnb site, finding the most amazing flats and houses to rent – all of which are unfeasibly expensive but I'll happily settle for the lovely medium type and budget ones!
    I've been planning a post on 'Pelt' since I finished the book. I enjoyed every story – and dearly loved many. You have a rare and beautiful talent Cat. Just you keep on keeping on in that writer's world. Yxx

  7. Oh Yvonne thanks! I really need a pickup tonight and you've provided a wonderful one. January is not shaping into a productive month for me and I am getting antsy. At this age every moment seems as though it must be devoted to the cause – writing for moi. Glad you had your vent – in Italian there is a beautiful word for that : sfogare. I'm already dreaming of my Corsican camping holiday and do hope we manage to have our London drink together this year xxx

  8. Oh mrs I'd love that London drink!! You also – of course – need to 'do' Scotland…! You've a bed, some laughs and plenty drinks here in New Lanark anytime. Yx

  9. I often ponder what you've written about as I sit in court (on the reporter's bench, I hasten to add). While there are often two sides to the story, often it's clear to everyone there, that someone is lying, yet they are being represented. Of course, I know, some lawyers will justify putting their client's case forward even though they must know he/she is lying, arguing that they are just doing what their client would do if they had the legal knowledge/education. It's a tricky one for sure.

  10. It is ironic how people allow themselves to fall into their own words and build up castles and forts of phrases just to defend their image to another person. On odd occasions various students of mine will build an elaborate story to explain why they plagiarized portions of an essay— or to deny the mirror copy of a published article even exists. Even when I am holding a copy in front of them. Human nature for self-protection?

  11. I think you're right Glen – self-protection does seem to be a primary driver. What strikes me in the recent cases I've dealt with is that initial lies were very minor – they were largely 'cosmetic' – they were about slight amendments to self-presentation ensuring that the image of self more closely represented the image one wanted of self… the minor lies went unchallenged and undiscovered… and began to affect the way in which other people who had heard the lies and believed them treated the liar… this in turn was internalised, changed the liar's behaviour (to meet the needs of the lie) and led to the need for even more lies… Then something bad happens and it all starts to unravel. Argh! When a representative starts to pore over the statements of witnesses (to character as well as incidents) – and discovers that those witnesses not only contradict each other but also the client (liar) – the defence begins to unravel. My usual practice has been to study the case, to know the prosecution case inside-out and then to challenge the client very hard – to expose them to a harsh prosecutor's cross-examination. That usually reveals a lot. The thing is – a lapse/transgression/crime is always more leniently dealt with when the perpetrator admits the 'crime' and demonstrates remorse and insight. But few folk are brave (not sure that's the right word) enough to face their own failings…

  12. Snap! I watched the reporters who attended the last Tribunal (spoke to a couple) and wondered what bits they would highlight – which bits would be highlighted by their editors and what bits would make the front pages (in the event it was the really sensational bits in that last GTCS case I did). Until recently my legal experience was mainly as a 'prosecutor' – drafting charges or grounds and then pursuing the case. I found that so much easier. People would still 'lie' of course – but in making the decision to proceed with a case I would be in charge of the evidence against and know the parameters. Now I'm defending. That's fine when you have a cogent defence. But the last few cases have been a disaster. I don't know any lawyers who would represent someone whom they know has lied to them and then asks you to lie for them… It's one thing to have doubts about your client's story – but it's awful when it falls apart… But yes, there have been times when I haven't 'bought' the narrative spun by my client – but have won… Mmmmm… never quite sure how to feel when that happens – other than to pat myself on the back 😉

  13. Agreed Jenny. How sad that a bearable life is only made possible through lying. I've worried about the middle case – the client is 'vulnerable' and only now seeking mental health assistance and counselling. At least the fabrications and fantasies have been admitted and there is honesty now – but in the process a job has been lost – something which is likely to lead to the loss of home etc.

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