There's really nothing worse than a client who has a strictly casual relationship with the truth. (Well, maybe that and a client who can't pay you.) When clients lie, it makes life difficult for everyone and makes you look like a schmuck; attorney-client privilege sort of precludes exclaiming, "But he swore up and down he didn't have any other assets!" But even if no one else finds out about the lie, it harms your ability to represent your client. One lie begets another; how do you know that everything isn't a lie? Finding out requires time, which means money.
In order to fend off the possible sanctions, the bruised ego, or something as prosaic as opportunity cost, how can you make sure that your client is telling the truth? (Note that this advice isn't for clients who plan to lie to a tribunal, but rather clients who aren't being forthright with you.) Here are five signs to look out for:
1. Speaking Vaguely
People can readily recall details of what actually happened to them because they only have to refer to their memory. As a result, they can provide accurate details. Liars, on the other hand, are either inventing a story on the fly or trying to remember a story they invented.
If you ask a liar questions about specific parts of his story (Where were the cross-streets? What time of day was it?), he'll either have a harder time answering or default to a vague answer.
2. Pupil Dilation
For some reason, the pupils of people who are lying tend to dilate. This could be because of increased tension and the need to concentrate more to maintain the lie, says Carol Kinsey Goman in Forbes. (On the other hand, some experts say this is a myth.)
3. Body Language
Sitting facing away from you, turning away from you, looking down, or folding arms -- these are all possible signs that someone's lying. Unconsciously, they're trying to physically distance themselves from you. (Then again, sometimes I fold my arms because it's more comfortable than putting them on armrests.)
Obviously, if you think a client is lying, circle back to things he or she has already said and test the story for inconsistencies. Make your questions sound innocent so that the client isn't tipped off that you're testing for weaknesses. On the other hand, telling the exact same story every time could also be an indication of lying because the client is rehashing what he or she has already rehearsed.
5. Using More Words
As it turns out, people who are lying use more words, and more complex sentences, than people who are telling the truth. This could be because they want to give off the impression that they're saying a lot while actually being careful not to say very much.
Editor's Note, October 13, 2015: This post was first published in October 2014. It has since been updated.