Saying I'm Sorry can be extremely economical.
Most litigation is initiated by people who are angry. They are mad enough to spend plenty of time and money on legal representation. A timely apology can often dissipate that anger so much that no lawsuit ever happens. Many lawyers will advise against making apologies in order to avoid making a legal admission of fault and jeopardizing a potential defense. But such advice is self-serving. They would like to handle your case and collect fees, and do not wish to see it resolved without a fight. If you are truly at fault, why spend potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on a doomed legal defense when a clear concise and manly apology can end the controversy? Certainly this will not work in some cases, such as personal injury matters. But it is surprising how effective the simple apology can be in business law. The following is a case in point.
Hell Hath No Fury Like...A Businessman Scorned.
When a local restaurant owner proposed to his rich customers that they back his new restaurant concept, the wealthy and proud businessmen thought they would enjoy being a part of a small and cushy local restaurant. It was a fun endeavor which posed little risk to their great fortunes. Three years later, they discovered to their fury that the restaurant owner had used their investment money to obtain a private home for himself live in Italy for months at a time. There was a confrontation. The restaurant owner decided, fatally, not to apologize but to spin the facts and pretend that he had bought the house for everyone. Sure. The investors were so infuriated that they sued him for fraud immediately. Their anger was so great that they were willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars suing him into bankruptcy, without any hope of recovering any of the money they were spending. They were well satisfied to see justice occur. They readily admit that had the man simply admitted what he had done wrong and apologized sincerely, they would have not sued. Instead he chose to lie, obfuscate and refuse to own up to his wrongdoing. An apology would have saved his remaining assets, his reputation and many months of misery in the courts. The lesson is that in a commercial dispute, if you are truly in the wrong, a tremendous amount of good can be achieved by admitting wrongdoing up front, early and sincerely. If you decide upon this course of action it is still advisable to obtain the advice of counsel first, to avoid unnecessary detail or liability pursuant to the apology. But it is an extremely effective legal technique which should never be ignored, as much as lawyers dislike admitting it.
A Stiff Apology Is a Fresh Insult.
Be careful however. Sincerity is critical when accepting blame. A stiff or insincere apology, or one couched in caveats and qualifications, is more enraging than remaining silent. It will have precisely the opposite effect of a sincere apology. Remember, the people of Athens were perfectly willing to let Socrates off easy after finding him guilty of corrupting the youth and worshiping false gods. Their finding of guilt was far from unanimous. But when they allowed him to suggest his own punishment, as a kindness, he suggested a hero's pension for life. They were so angry they sentenced him to death by drinking the poison hemlock, and this vote passed by a much higher percentage than had actually voted him guilty. If you are as right as Socrates, maybe a facetious apology is acceptable, perhaps even laudatory. But if you are wrong, keep in mind the anger which will be provoked by a stiff or bitter apology.