Breaking Down Documents

By Athina K. Powers, Esq.

When we communicate either orally or in script, words are sewn together to form sentences, which provide the reader and listener with an external version of our inner speech. Depending on the speaker's tone and writer's word choice, each sentence is imbued with different meaning, intention, causation and expression. Because we communicate so reflexively with one another, we never truly think or analyze what words we use and in what manner. There is a series of words that follow one another, all for the sole purpose of reaching the pan-ultimate conclusion of who, what, where, when, why and how. We can narrow down conversations to those six simple, direct terms that create various techniques used to get the answers you want.

This similar type of thinking revolves around interrogating an individual or reading a transcript. The use of introjections, marker words, temporal lacunas in the speech or document, denials or negations, and even stalling, they are all behaviors that we can decode to distinguish truth from lie. In Hollywood thrillers and dramas, you often hear someone saying, "Choose your words wisely”--this is the most important line you need to keep in mind when you're decoding written or oral statements. In the battle of words, pronouns such as "I", "Me" or "We" can mean more than it seems to the untrained senses. For example:

The continuous use of “I” indicates a degree of self-absorption by the speaker or writer. 

At other times, the absence of that particular pronoun demonstrates a loss of commitment to the narrative by the speaker, such as in the case of "I believe", "I guess", "I am" or "I know". 

The traditional use of the pronoun “my” indicates possession. Heavy use of that pronoun, however, means that the speaker or writer portrays themselves as a passive object of events that has no control over them. 

“We” indicates a collective reference. If a verb immediately follows the pronoun, it's proof of an emotional distance between the speaker and listener or writer and reader. 

This doesn't necessarily mean that these pronouns are determinants of the identifications of fraud profilers. In fact, they are simply guides for the examiner to follow and know what questions to ask next so as to narrow down the true suspect. 

Whether you're a new attorney or have no affiliation to the law profession, you know that when you write a letter to someone or when you receive a complaint, the first thing you do is read it carefully. As an attorney, you are trained to decode the documents, transcripts or evidence you receive according to the law, using case law to support your position. Did you know that the information encrypted in the document and the way that the opposing party states certain content, you can have admissions? If you crack the meaning behind the words in the preface, main theme and epilogue in a document, you can trace back fuzziness in telling the whole truth, or even circumventing the truth. By editing the way you write your letters, complaint, motion or memorandum, you can create an array of your arguments. Your opponents will try to defend themselves by arguing against your words. So long as your wording is phrased correctly, you make your opponent's job even more difficult...and expensive. 

Experts can help you read the document and attend to the temporal pronouns and verb tenses used, which are the primary components in an argument. They can help expose what to avoid and what is dangerously revealing. You don't need to lie in a court document to win a case, or misconstrue the meaning behind a script--just state what you want to say in a specific way.

Athina K. Powers is a California Attorney and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)* and founder of a contemporary, boutique law practice in California that assists clients in the counties of Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. For over 30 years, she successfully represented clients in cases ranging from divorce and restraining orders to white collar crime and fraud investigations. Her mission is to provide clients with effective and efficient legal representation.


By Attorney Athina Karamanlis Powers

My Stolen Identity


"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."