Is it okay to tell a client, “I don’t know”?


When we prep a client for a statement or depo we tell them it’s okay to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”. It’s safe. A way to keep them from guessing or lying and getting caught.

If you don’t know, you don’t know, so that’s what you should say.

But what if it’s something they should know? Won’t they look bad if they say they don’t?

Sometimes they will.

If the question is, “Where were you seated in the vehicle?” yes. They will look bad if they say they don’t know.

You sign ’em up and you take yo chances.

But what about us? Lawyers who have clients (and spouses) who ask us questions we should be able to answer. Is it okay to tell them you don’t know?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not.

When a client asks, “How much is my case worth?” you better not give them an answer that doesn’t include the words “it depends.” On the other hand, if your spouse asks, “Do you love me” you damn well better have a different answer. And, for the record, if your spouses asks, “How much did you have to drink?” you probably don’t want to say you don’t recall.

But those are easy. What about difficult questions?

When a client asks you about the law, is it okay to say you don’t know? Should you offer an ambiguous “it depends” type of answer, tell them you’re not sure, or admit you don’t have a clue?

If you admit you don’t know something you should know, doesn’t that show weakness?

It’s certainly a good way to show the client you respect them and aren’t trying to bluff your way through an answer. It’s refreshing to hear an attorney provide a straight answer for a change, isn’t it?

Yeah, I know, it depends.

If you don’t know the answer, and you don’t know if you should admit that, I’d suggest going with, “I need to do more research.”

On the other hand, speaking from experience, I can tell you that’s not a good answer when your wife asks you (anything).