A guy is driving around the back woods of Montana and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: “Talking Dog For Sale.” He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard.
The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking Labrador Retriever sitting there.
“You talk?” he asks.
“Yep,” the Lab replies.
After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says “So, what’s your story?”
The Lab looks up and says, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so . . . I told the CIA.
“In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.
“I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running.
“But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals.
“I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
‘Ten dollars,” the guy says.
“Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?
“Because he’s a Bullshitter.
He’s never been out of the yard.”
Some thoughts about listening and lie-detection.
My brother emailed me the preceding talking dog joke last week. And while it may be well-traveled anonymous Internet humor, it prompted my post on something I’ve kicked around for a while — ‘Is it possible for a lawyer to develop a nose for Pinocchio prevarication a.k.a. a bullshit detector?’
Years ago, a Hank Ketcham Dennis the Menace cartoon graced the wallboard next to my office coffee station. Dennis was in the foreground in the usual trouble as he explained his latest mischief. His peeved mother, arms crossed, stood to his left with his perplexed dad home from work on his right. The caption read, “Do you wanna hear my version, mom’s version or the truth?”
I kept that cartoon to remind me that as the poet observed, people sometimes “tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Listening effectively means understanding that gradations of truth occur in fact-gathering. So when evaluating a client representation, lawyers must cultivate a practiced ear and listen carefully to grasp the factual versus the fictitious — the nuanced truth versus the cunning adulteration.
It’s more art than science. As an essayist once noted, “each of us tells little lies to make it through the day, and an indistinct line divides fair from foul.”
So when a long-time lawyer and friend exaggeratedly quips, “All clients lie,” I know that, in spite of his hyperbole, he’s channeling Dennis the Menace. He means there’s more than one side to every story. This is especially true when a legal representation concerns intra-family conflicts, workplace controversies or business disputes.
To get to those ‘versions’ requires good listening. This is why legal writing professor Jennifer Romig is absolutely right when she says,“good listening makes good lawyering.” Fortunately, effective listening skills can be learned.
As for lie detection — not so much. Sure there are books, studies and articles claiming to help determine when someone is lying. I’m not sure I believe them. In my experience, finely-tuned bullshit detection comes mostly through hard-knock ‘fool me once’ life experience.
That said, last month lawyer Mark Wilson posted his “5 Ways to Tell When a Client Is Lying to You.” Momentarily putting aside what a lawyer must ethically do when a client plans to lie-to-acquittal or otherwise thinks perjury is play-doh pliable, Wilson focused instead on clients who 1) speak vaguely; 2) have dilated pupils; 3) use body language to physically distance; 4) make inconsistent statement; and 5) are verbose.
Save for spotting narrative inconsistencies, those may or may not be helpful cues to uncover a lie. Still it’s a popular exercise. Other psycho-pop theories, for example, suggest that too much or too little eye contact; nose touching; hand-waving; fidgeting and just general uneasiness are also sure-fire lie-catchers.
Like the yarn-spinning yard-bound Labrador, in my experience, the more creative people are the better liars.
Photo Credits: IMG_33151 by Elisa at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License; Stylin’ by Marvin Kuo at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution; smiling labrador and yellow flowers, by nox-AM-ruit at Flickr Creative Commons via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license;more faces, by Stephanie Sicore at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution; Alex 1 by Ted at Flickr via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.