Information failures jeopardize lawyering in Israel - opinion

These are genuine occupational risks and professional distress for Israeli lawyers that need to be addressed at every level.

 AVI HIMI, president of the Israel Bar Association, speaks at an association conference, last year (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
AVI HIMI, president of the Israel Bar Association, speaks at an association conference, last year
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Israeli lawyers face difficulties in obtaining the necessary information they need to live up to professional expectations and provide quality legal services for their clients – and it is a critical concern to tackle.

To properly represent their clients in court and offer sound legal advice, lawyers must seek, gather and use information wisely. However, Israeli lawyers often perform dismally because they are misled by information provided by their clients and other legal work-related sources.

My recent research in the Information Science Department at Bar-Ilan University uncovers a challenging and risky aspect of law practice in Israel: the use of disruptive information sources by lawyers. Twenty-five practicing Israeli lawyers, in more than 30 different fields of legal practice, were interviewed about the information sources they use in their practice of law and the information-wise problems and setbacks they face in their routine legal work. The findings regarding lawyers’ clientele are particularly interesting.

The Welsh poet George Herbert once wrote, “Deceive not thy physician, confessor, nor lawyer.” Unfortunately, his wisdom has not permeated the Israeli setting. While clients are deemed an indispensable source of relevant information in the practice of law, my study reveals that they are also repeatedly considered a principal source of disruptive information.

Ostensibly providing their lawyers with the sequence of events of their respective cases, as well as various documents and further explanations – oftentimes, clients do not maintain a truthful and balanced description of the facts. It poses a serious professional risk, since clients may distort facts, provide inaccurate details, and even conceal material information and records from their lawyers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Lawyers Boaz Ben Zur and Amit Hadad arrive to the District Court in Jerusalem for a court hearing as part of the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on December 1, 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Lawyers Boaz Ben Zur and Amit Hadad arrive to the District Court in Jerusalem for a court hearing as part of the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on December 1, 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Such an unwholesome practice ultimately affects Israeli lawyers’ good professional conduct and effective legal representation on behalf of the same clients, causing delays in dispensing cases. It is ironic that clients, who should otherwise know better than to harm their case, are time and again the ones to challenge and counteract their lawyers by telling them inaccuracies and distorted truths. This false thinking is clearly not helping strengthen their cases and it is putting lawyers at risk: their cases may fail and their lawyers may fail, too. Then, everyone loses.

Information sources other than clients further aggravate the situation. Israeli lawyers experience critical content, accessibility and usability disruptions when using various e-government platforms, legal databases and current-awareness services, as well as professional recollection, seminars and online social networks. Some of these sources sustain exclusive possession of unique data coupled with an inconvenient and frustrating user interface. Others were found to contain challenging coverage of information, or impractical and even incorrect information.

Lawyers are fraught with false, biased and partial information thay can do little or nothing with to shore up a case and, many times, is complicated or unfeasible to validate. Yet, information disruptions are part and parcel of real-life lawyering in Israel. Doubtful and erroneous information sources and their derivative distortions hamper lawyers’ legal cases, possibly damaging their reputation and putting them in actual jeopardy of malpractice.

These are genuine occupational risks and professional distress for Israeli lawyers that need to be addressed at every level for the benefit of their clients’ cases and for the sake of better justice. Law schools and the national bar should adjust information literacy education and compulsory training design to address the hurdles lawyers face in their ordinary practice of law. A public campaign calling on clients to provide their lawyers with complete and accurate information in order to ensure their full rights seems to be imperative.

Governmental agencies should proactively make e-government systems more effective and user-friendly. Commercial distributors of legal information can also play their part by communicating with users to gain ongoing feedback and adjust information services accordingly. Nevertheless, professional liability insurance companies must, above all, become the driving force for the prompt implementation of these recommendations.

The writer is a licensed Israeli lawyer, an adjunct lecturer and a researcher at the Information Science Department at Bar-Ilan University.