Being able to detect when someone is lying is a handy tool for lawyers.
Getting them to tell the truth in the first place might be even more valuable – especially for lawyers just starting out.
The good news is that both skills can be developed with practice.
A good local resource is attorney and law professor Peter Romary. Born in the UK, Romary has the sort of resume most of us can only dream about. He’s had his name in lights at New York’s Times Square – the only Brit other than Winston Churchill to claim that distinction. He’s received a papally-blessed knighthood. He’s won the National Law Journal Pro Bono Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the highest civilian honor conferred on US citizens. He’s won a$525 million wrongful death jury verdict and served as Honorary Consul for the Republic of Namibia.
But it’s his work with the risk management and security screening firm QVerity, where he is a partner and general counsel, that makes him a human lie detector.
And just as importantly, a human truth extractor.
Setting the Stage for Truth
QVerity was founded by three former CIA agents. They were spies. Professional interrogators.Experts in “deception detection.”
Some of their secrets from decades in the field are shared in a pair of books – “Get the Truth” and “Spy the Lie” – to which Romary contributed.
From the QVerity website: “Imagine how different your life would be if you could tell whether someone was lying or telling you the truth. Be it hiring a new employee, investing in a financial interest, speaking with your child about drugs, confronting your significant other about suspected infidelity, or even dating someone new, having the ability to unmask a lie can have far-reaching and even life-altering consequences.”
Here are three tricks for getting someone to tell the truth:
• Offer an empathetic opening statement. Let them know you understand what they’re feeling: anxiety, fear, sadness. Identify with their emotions. Suggest that you are there to alleviate – not aggravate – these unpleasant emotions.
• Encourage short-term thinking. People lie when they’re afraid of the long-term consequences of divulging the truth. Keep them firmly rooted in the present. Show them how being honest will yield immediate gratification.
Reading the Language of Lies
Let’s say you’ve properly set the stage for truth-telling. You’ve got the other person talking. How can you look behind the words to see if the truth is being told?
Here are seven verbal and nonverbal cues from the field of forensic psychology:
• Physical gestures are stiff, restricted and seem slightly off. The subject may frequently touch their face, wrap their arms around their body or cross their legs tightly. They may place an object – a book or coffee cup, say – between you and them in order to hide behind it.
The bottom line: with a little work you can get better at eliciting accurate information. This will make you a more skillful – and marketable – lawyer. And that’s the truth.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org