For Lawyers, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Photo: Brandon Wade, Dallas Morning New, via AP
Photo: Brandon Wade, Dallas Morning New, via AP

Such sad news this weekend. Josh Brent, a Dallas Cowboys football player, got into an accident that killed his best friend.

On one hand, it’s another all-too-ordinary story of a drunk driving fatality. But something extraordinary happened. Something you hardly ever see when an individual or a company is accused of a crime. Brent immediately expressed remorse.

Here is the statement released through his agent:

“I am devastated and filled with grief. Filled with grief for the loss of my close friend and teammate, Jerry Brown. I am also grief-stricken for his family, friends and all who were blessed enough to have known him. I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life. My prayers are with his family, our teammates and his friends at this time.”

Heartbreaking, of course. And rare. The reason you hardly ever see statements like this? Lawyers.

Now I undertand lawyers have a duty to protect their clients from doing further legal damage to themselves. But you’ll notice that nothing in this statement implies an admission of guilt or implicates Brent in a crime. He is simply expressing remorse over the loss of his friend and offering condolences to Brown’s family and friends.

Yes, you can express sorrow without saying the dreaded words, “I’m sorry.”

In crisis after crisis you see companies and people clam up, refusing to say anything at all. It makes them look insensitive — not to mention guilty. And while an abundance of caution may be a smart legal strategy, it inflicts untold damage on the image of the accused.

As a result, they might very well end up winning the case, but losing something even more important: their reputation. To say nothing of their integrity.

A simple guideline for companies in circumstances like these: do what a human would do.

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