by Attorney Scott Garver
In the 35 + years that I have practiced law I have learned an important truth about people. As my wife says, “There are three sides to every story. Mine, yours, and the truth.”
This principle can be seen in all areas of human life. Kids are a great example, whether they are toddlers, teenagers, or adults. It is present at work between co-workers and between the boss and employees. In a family, especially in the middle of a contested dissolution or child custody battle it is in full force. It is also in criminal cases when witnesses contradict each other or when the police report is different than the accused’s version.
Even in foreign affairs between nations, or in politics and journalism, it is wise to keep this principle in mind.
It is everywhere.
I am not here talking about people who deliberately lie and distort the truth. It is human nature that good people “spin” the facts of a situation to place themselves in a more favorable light.
As a trial lawyer rarely do I see a witness admit to an untruth in his testimony. Perceptions, memory, culture, and emotions are in play in how we relate our story. ‘He said – she said’ confrontations are not very helpful in getting at the truth or resolving a dispute by an agreement of negotiated settlement.
A good advocate will listen for what is said and what is not said and how it is said. Most things are never true or false, either this or that. True is usually more nuanced.
Maybe a binary systems work well in the digital world, but when dealing with living, breathing, and imperfect people it is wise to remember the” three sides to every story” principle. That is, if we are more interested in determining the “truth” than just winning an argument.
Good judges are aware of this, so sometimes I try to teach my clients about it. Judges and juries are called upon to determine the credibility of witnesses. I want my witnesses to tell the truth and be believable by not overstating or posturing their testimony. This is a subtle undertaking and shows why legal advocacy is truly an art.
It is a subject not taught in law school.