Caught in a lie

If you believe you are justified in pursuing a matter legally, make sure you do so honestly and have all the facts sorted out. It’s best to not get in a legal wrangle as in most instances it is only the lawyers who consistently win financially.

Caught in a lie by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago Dave and I found ourselves in a dispute with an individual. As in any dispute, both sides had their perspectives, and both righteously and vigorously argued them to the other, to no avail. Not surprisingly, the individual chose to sue us in an attempt to bring the matter to a conclusion. As is typical in a lawsuit, we entered into a process called discovery whereby both sides could question the other to understand the evidence prior to a trial or, as often the case, a settlement.

Discovery process

Even though discovery is conducted outside of a courtroom, it carries with it all of the formality of a court proceeding. It can be a little intimidating as the opposing counsel tries to uncover things that he presumes the defendants are hiding, but with our lawyer at our side, we began the process with confidence. Fortunately, all of the facts pertaining to the case were contained in a very limited and recent timeframe. We had good recollection of dates and facts and could confidently answer the lawyer’s questions, with one key exception.

Truth will out

The lawyer put a letter in front of me that I did not recognize at all. It was on our company letterhead, had a series of details and proposals in it and bore my name and title at the bottom, albeit unsigned. It was shown to me in the context of being my proposal to the individual for some work that he had then undertaken and was at the heart of the lawsuit. I indicated that I had neither written the letter nor offered the terms contained therein to the plaintiff. Now our accuser’s lawyer really had something to dig his teeth into. He stayed on the letter and the terms for some time with his questions. I had a hard time countering what was right in black and white in front of me. Fortunately, a break came and that was when it hit me – we didn’t have company letterhead as of the date of the letter. The letter was a fake, created by our accuser to make his case.

I shared this information with our lawyer, and we waited our turn to question the plaintiff. With no inkling of what we knew or where the questions were headed, our accuser verified where the letter had come from. With his lie on the record, his proverbial goose was cooked. Needless to say, the matter came to a swift resolution right at the discovery phase.

The moral of the story

Of course, the moral of this story is obvious – don’t lie or fabricate evidence. It is hard, if not impossible, to manage all of the details that would have made a lie like this one work. How could he or anyone have known the date on which we would have received our very first batch of letterhead from the printer? With an impossibly small window within which to date the letter to prove his point against us, he made a mistake, and that small mistake was his undoing.

Perhaps a less obvious lesson is related to the legal fight itself – best to never get into one. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and imagine situations with legitimate and righteous indignation and cavalierly declare I would sue. While I don’t advocate ever being someone whom others can capriciously abuse, taking a matter into a legal process is something that I have learned to do with great care. But make no mistake – once in it, go for the win. Lawyers themselves will say that in a legal battle, they’re the only ones who win. Their legal fees add up quickly and relentlessly with no regard to who ultimately prevails.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.