Liar, Lawyer

How a state bar seminar on ethics turned into a liars' club

On a recent Thursday morning at the Royal Palms Hotel, the staccato clip of Italian loafers echoed across the courtyard. Despite the perfect golf weather and the posh resort setting, the 40 or so lawyers who had assembled there weren't talking about their handicaps or their new sets of Callaways. They had come to be schooled in ethics, and in a roundabout way, they got a very big lesson.

Their classroom was "The Training for the Truth: Exploring Integrity in the Legal Profession," a two-day seminar that was part of the State Bar of Arizona's Continuing Legal Education Program. In light of recent events, the topic seemed particularly relevant. The seminar came just two days after Phoenix lawyer Mark Torre was indicted in the hit-and-run death in August of an 18-year-old Arizona State University student. It was only the latest, if particularly brutal, incident in a growing trend of local lawyers who have found themselves on the wrong side of the rules: In 2000 alone, 65 members of the state bar were disciplined, more than twice the number sanctioned, censured or disbarred in 1998.

As part of the effort to stem this tide of dishonor, attorneys attend seminars like "The Training for the Truth," paying $170 for each day of the course to earn 6.25 hours of ethics-education credit. But judging by the accounts of some lawyers in attendance at the seminar, credits were about all they got out of it. Lacking any direct relevance to the legal profession -- in the United States or anywhere else -- and packaged with promises of speakers who would never appear, this seminar on truth ended up looking more like its own kind of liars' club.

Attendees were led to believe they would explore lying in the legal profession and its consequences with experts in the field. Promotional materials authored by presenter Dr. Carol Andrade, (who barred New Times from the seminar and refused to be interviewed for this story), stated that Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Zlaket had been "invited to present the opening remarks," that the seminar was "the culmination of 20 years of research," and promised other guest speakers would be included. Given the seminar's audience, topics scheduled for discussion were assured to relate to the practice of law, such as professional confidentiality issues, the need for billable hours, and attorney-client relationships. They expected to be enlightened on subjects such as "Sociopathy: What Happens to Your Personal Relationships When You Lie, or You Continuously Associate With Professional Liars?" and "Why Do Individuals and Groups Lie to Each Other?" as they apply to the practice of law. Instead, a roomful of lawyers spent two days attending what one attorney described as "a self-help seminar on a 12-year-old level."

Lawyers spent the first morning learning little about law, and a lot about a study conducted in the 1920s, which supported Andrade's theory that most people lie sometimes, depending on the situation. Andrade spoke of "attribution errors," and how people can't be categorized based on their behavior. She illustrated this with examples from her childhood, like the time she protected her younger siblings from a bully (showing courage) or the time she hid inside her house when a black boy mowed her lawn (showing cowardice). She taught attorneys that repressing anger could make you kill somebody.

Then they had cheeseburgers.

The afternoon session took off on an even more distant tangent, some attendees said, turning its focus to the state of ethics in India and Pakistan. The lawyers watched a video of children rolling Bidi cigarettes in a factory in India. One lawyer read a paperback under the table as Andrade talked about child slavery in Pakistan, class systems in Pakistan, and a Pakistani television program. She urged the attorneys to turn on the "little tiny truth detectors" inside them and warned them that if they are truthful and ethical, someone bad will try to buy them. Hearing this, one man in the audience was prompted to comment, "I'm not sure you really understand what lawyers do."

David Dodge, an attorney and "The Training for the Truth" graduate, hoped that Day Two, scheduled for "Case Studies and Application to Real Life Situations," would at last address ethical disputes in the legal profession. He wanted to discuss issues like a lawyer's responsibility to inform authorities if a client threatens to harm someone financially, or the trouble lawyers have meeting a firm's quotas for billable hours. But instead, Dodge says, "What we heard was a philosophical discussion of truth and how truth varies, how reality is perceived. But as far as getting into truth and truthfulness in the practice of law, we really didn't discuss that at all."

What they did discuss, to another attorney's amazement, were the instincts of fear and flight, which Andrade said was "the way people learned to flee the dinosaurs."

"Am I going to ask for my money back?" Dodge said after the seminar. "No. Would I recommend this seminar to another lawyer? I would not."

Another attorney characterized the event as "a real waste of time" and said she felt particularly misled by its promotional materials.

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