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How To Tell If Someone Is Lying (Tips From A Laywer)

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In my 15 years of practicing law, I get lied to a lot:  the opposing party, opposing counsel, potential witnesses and sometimes my very own client.  I’ve come up with a few techniques to find out if someone is being 100 percent truthful.

TONE – BE EMPATHETIC

The tone you create is important.  When you are trying to spot a liar, you’re not the only one doing the evaluating. They are judging you too. They are gauging whether they are being successful as a liar. A lot of TV lawyers come in guns a blazing showing how tough they are ready to cross examine and call the liar out. 

I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty exciting and dramatic that way.  But, I find the opposite the most helpful. 

You don’t want to approach the problem in an accusatory manner.  Your biggest weapon is to appear empathetic and to make them feel comfortable in their lie and that is when you find the cracks in their story..

SET A BASELINE

The first thing I do is set a baseline.  I ask them something personal or something where there is not reason for them to lie. I study their mannerisms. 

Regardless of whether someone is lying, some people naturally seem nervous, or talk fast, or pause before they answer. Some people do not make eye contact.  For example, I ask, “How did you meet my client?” You look for the person’s style or flow because when a person lies, they usually change their specific flow.

I then ask them something that is outright wrong to see how the person reacts.  For example, “You ask for a loan from my client because you were broke right?” I know that he or she wasn’t broke but it confirms the change in the flow that I just determined earlier.

ASK OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS

To spot a liar, it’s rarely as simple as you asking that one magical question, they answer and you have your “aha” moment and you jump out and can say, “LIAR!”  It takes time to spot a liar.  So I always ask open ended questions. 

Instead of saying, “You borrowed money from my client so you could open a new restaurant location right?”  I would ask, “Why did you borrow money from my Client?” This forces the liar to expand on their lies and give you a lot more information than you ask for. 

ASK UNANTICIPATED QUESTIONS

Remember, liars have their story rehearsed.  They have memorized it.  They have excuses, reasoning, justifications. So it is vital to ask unanticipated questions, even when the question is not relevant.

For example, “Is it true that your family could have loaned you the money but you did not ask them?” The question isn’t even relevant but it interrupts their flow and takes them out of their comfortable “rehearsed” story. 

REORDER THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

Ask for the story again but backwards taking outside of their rehearsed story.  I coach it as needing clarification of what I just heard. I would relay the information with the last thing that happened first and then ask them to jump in and fill in some of the facts.

“So, tell me what you did again before the first payment was due?” People who have made up a story usually have a hard time changing up the order of events.

BRING IN HYPOTHETICAL EVIDENCE

I ask them hypothetical questions or bring in evidence that has not been obtained.  “During the course of the trial, we will be able to obtain a recording of the conversation you had with my client. Tell me what you will see in the recording.”   Or, “There’s a witness to the terms of the loan.  What do you think the witness may say that would be different than what you are telling me?”

What I tell them may or may not be true – but a liar, thinking there is evidence contradicting his story may hedge his bets and back off on the story.

AGREE WITH THE UNDERLYING REASON 

Liars almost always have an underlying moral or legal reason as to the lie.  As they are talking, you agree to their reasoning. This makes them feel like they are in the right and will volunteer more information. For example, “You don’t think it’s fair that you did all the work and my client got almost all of the money, right?” If he agrees with you, you have taken him half way down the road to catching him in a lie.

So those are a few tips I have picked up through the years.  Is that all?  No, but I need to keep a few tricks in my pocket.

Thien-Vu Hogan
Thien-Vu Hogan
Attorney Thien-Vu Hogan is the founding and managing partner of Hogan & Hogan.