can lawyers guarantee a result?

Can you guarantee a certain result?

October 31, 2022 8:15 am Published by Leave your thoughts

No lawyer can guarantee a certain legal result. A lawyer may be able to predict a range of potential outcomes after they have all the information, but they must be careful how they phrase it. Any lawyer who offers a guarantee raises serious concerns.  For example, in a criminal case, even if a defense lawyer believes in their heart that an accused client will win, they cannot guarantee an acquittal. Ethical rules prohibit lawyers from guaranteeing a result.

If a lawyer promises victory a wise potential client should not just be cautious but also leave the lawyer’s office right away or hang up the phone. Any lawyer who gives such a guarantee is wasting your time; they may be a complete novice or just looking for work.

While lawyers cannot promise outcomes or guarantee a certain legal result, they can promise that everything will be done with diligence, honesty, and compassion.

Why shouldn’t a lawyer do this?

There are two reasons why a lawyer shouldn’t promise results. 

First promising any outcome or particular conclusion in a particular case is expressly prohibited by the Code of Professional Ethics. This is taught repeatedly both in law school and in continuing education courses for lawyers.  Lawyers who make these promises, face sanctions, including public reprimand, suspension or even disbarment.

This is true for several reasons, including the risk that if lawyers make guarantees it will lead them to commit unethical behavior in order to fulfill the promises result, such as fabricating or destroying evidence, intimidating witnesses, bribing judges, bribing prosecutors, or otherwise undermining the judicial system’s integrity.

Second, it is a “hard-sell” strategy that misleads the potential client. It demonstrates severe inexperience and desperation about how the facts evolve, the legal theories that may be relevant or applicable, and who will serve as the judge, jury, and prosecutor. Additionally, the law can occasionally alter unexpectedly.

Even if the attorney has read the police report, knows which judge will preside, or has extensive experience working with the prosecutor, the final outcome is within their control. Only a fool would guarantee a particular result.

It’s Impossible

Even the simplest legal issues could include an unknown, unforeseen element. Legal matters are entirely unpredictable.

In an adversarial system, decisions are made by a jury or judge after a trial on the merits or by all parties agreeing to a settlement. A lawyer does not influence what the other party will do, including what they will desire, what they will offer, or what evidence they may have that you are unaware of. After a trial, a lawyer absolutely cannot predict with any level of certainty what the judge or jury will decide.

Predictions vs. Promises

Lawyers can forecast outcomes in good faith even though they cannot guarantee results. A lawyer will typically have a good understanding of the likelihood of success associated with a specific defense strategy based on their years of experience handling cases that are comparable to yours.

Experienced attorneys learn to assess how juries will interpret the evidence. They are aware of the likelihood of the jury siding with the defendant. They can determine if the jury will believe the prosecution’s witnesses. They provide predictions about expected (but not guaranteed) results if a matter goes to trial based on their experience working with juries and judges.

Lawyers, Roofers, and Surgeons

In many situations, consumers expect and demand a guarantee. For example, if a homeowners pays to install a new roof on their home, they expect that both the materials and the installation will be guaranteed for a certain number of years. If the roof fails before the time period has expired, they can rightly demand a refund.

Because legal results are unpredictable, law firm’s consumers should never expect a similar type of guarantee from a law firm. In this regard, a better analogy is to a surgeon. Even a relatively minor, minimally invasive surgery carries risk of an unexpectedly bad consequence. The surgeon can discuss likely outcomes but can never promise the result.

In other words, don’t ask a lawyer if they can have your case dismissed, and keep calling attorneys until you find one that guarantees you that they can. That will unavoidably bring you into contact with someone acting unethically and presumably more concerned with your money than your case. 

The best attorneys will say they cannot guarantee a certain legal result and will handle your case as best they can, given the circumstances, including the facts, the evidence, local laws, and your prior experiences. If you’re looking for an experienced legal team that will advocate for your best interest, contact us. We can help guide you toward the most favorable results.

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This post was written by Cohen and Winters

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