Practising deceit

I was very struck by one particular answer John Moulton gave in the 20 Questions column in last Friday’s FT. He was asked, “Have you ever lied at work?” and his answer was “No. I detest deceit”.

This is the answer we probably all hope we would give, and indeed all think we could give. If you were to ask any lawyer which virtues he or she would consider fundamental to lawyering, my money would be on ‘probity’ and ‘integrity’ as two that would rank very high. Trust is, or should be, the foundation upon which we build our careers as lawyers.

And yet, and yet: deceit is never far away. Our ability to negotiate, whether in litigation or in transactional work, is one of those core skills that we lawyers also need. This in turn may involve, as Lord Armstrong remarked in the 1986 Spycatcher trial, our being “economical with the truth”.  The maxim  is from Edmund Burke: “Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth.”

At the end of our careers (although I am not suggesting for a moment that this is where John Moulton is) it would be good to be able to give that answer. It may, however, be difficult.

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