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Detecting Deception: Researching the Lies

Times are tough for everyone, not just for businesses but individuals as well. People are finding more inventive ways to try and make money and sometimes, unfortunately, it crosses the line into fraudulent behaviour.

Take the infamous ‘crash for cash’ scandal as an example, believed to cost the insurance industry approximately £2 billion every single year, with 1,500 new claims submitted per day. ‘Crash for cash’ is just one area of many where deception is a growing trend. This is leaving the legal profession with a real headache with more and more solicitors concerned that detecting lies is a big part of the job and one that is becoming more and more important.

With this in mind, UCLan has worked in partnership with North West-based law firm, Birchall Blackburn, to develop an accredited legal course called: ‘Managing Deception in the Legal Profession’.

It all started with senior psychology lecturers at UCLan, Sandi Mann and Paul Seager, who used their knowledge and expertise to write a book in 2008 entitled: Would I Lie To You: Deception detection in relationships at work and in life. They saw this growing trend at an early stage and quickly pinpointed the potential effect it would have on a number of professions, not least the legal sector.

Paul Seager

Sandi used her existing relationships with Birchall Blackburn to create a jointly developed course that could help the industry detect deception. Through consultation, the course decided to focus on legal professionals that deal with family & matrimonial law, property and personal injury compensation claims.

It was trialled to over 100 Birchall Blackburn employees first to gauge feedback and help make enhancements to the course, before being accredited and rolled out to the industry.

Feedback from industry representatives proved a priceless source, with additions made to include interactive aspects such as video and group discussions. What has been developed is one four-hour session that involves video role play presentations, questionnaires, group discussions and practical seminars based on the issues raised by employees who are concerned by possible money-laundering, fraudulent claims or how to manage the client relationship whilst trying to detect deception

Commenting on the course, senior lecturer at UCLan, Sandi Mann, said: “Detecting deception in the legal profession is a real worry and with the trial, we saw first hand how difficult the professionals found it to spot.”

“The course is much more than simply pointing out ways of detecting deception; it covers how to maintain the client relationship throughout this process and gives solicitors confidence to cope with issues of deception management.”

“We’ve known the employees at Birchall Blackburn for a number of years and found their input invaluable. It’s great to be in a position where we have a course which has been fully accredited by the Law Society and where we can offer the service to other legal firms throughout the UK.”

Research and findings

Interestingly, the very basis of the course was confirmed after reviewing the questionnaires that were given to the employees at Birchall Blackburn at the start of the course. The vast majority, 95 per cent of those questioned, stated they were better at detecting lies than they actually were.

The questionnaire asked them to indicate on a scale of 0 – 100 how good they thought they were at lie detection at the start of the courses, with 95 per cent rating themselves at 60 per cent or higher. The actual figure, after being tested, was that most of them, again 95 per cent, scored 50 per cent or below.

Further revealing statistics were identified from the questionnaires when asked, as legal professionals, when do they need to detect deception at work. The most popular answer, given by 40 per cent of respondents, was when dealing with claims for personal injury, when people could be exaggerating injuries or lying about how they got injured.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) also stated that they needed deception detection skills when first meeting a new client, while 18 per cent needed to detect lies when dealing with potential money laundering cases, emphasising how important the training would be and how the skills are vital in their day-to-day roles.

Paul Pickering, Partner and at Birchall Blackburn, gave his view on the course: “About 100 of Birchall Blackburn's staff, including myself, have attended this course and I highly recommend it to other law firms.

We learned useful techniques to help detect when a client may not be being truthful and, as well as being educational, the course is highly interactive and entertaining."

Feedback from other employees at Birchall Blackburn was unanimously positive, with comments praising the format of the course and revealing how eye-opening the course has been in identifying their weaknesses in spotting deception. After receiving accreditation in March, the next step is for more and more legal firms to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise gained at the course, while helping employees spot this deception.