It's Impossible and Unethical: Why a Lawyer Can't Guarantee a Result

It’s Unethical and Impossible:  Why Your Lawyer Can’t Guarantee a Result


I get a lot of people who call wanting me to help them on their case.  They may want out of jail or they may already be out on bond and be looking for a lawyer.  It is inevitable that many of them ask me:  what can you do for me?  What am “I looking at”?  What am I facing?


I’m going to tell you what many lawyers won’t.  It is not only unethical for a lawyer to be able to promise you a result on your case – no jail, no prison, probation, or a dismissal – it is impossible to do any more than go over the possibilities on a first phone call.  Anyone who tellsyou “oh I can get you probation” or “oh I can get that dismissed”  is unethical and probably trying to get you to make a down payment.  Do not be surprised that if you hire a lawyer based on the fact that they promised you a result, they will come back later telling you it’s not going to happen.  At that point, you’ve already spent your money and have to make a decision on whether to start all over again with another lawyer.  That means cutting your losses – you aren’t going to get any of that money back – and spending money on another lawyer.


·         It is unethical. 


Lawyers are bound by rules of discipline.  These are rules that govern the way we practice.  Lawyers can be disciplined by the state bar – including having their licenses suspended or permanently revoked – if they violate the rules.  One of the most important rules is very clearly stated :  do not promise a result.  It is a very sinister thing for a lawyer to promise a result.  Do not get it twisted:  lawyers do this to get you to hire them and take your money.  They absolutely know that a result is not guaranteed in any case.  It’s just impossible – its tantamount to telling the future with certainty.  If they tell you different – they are lying.


·         It is absolutely impossible.


Legal matters are unpredictable on some level – even the most simple ones may have an unknown, unpredictable element.  We have an adversarial system and results come about due to all sides coming to a compromise or a jury or judge deciding after a trial on the merits.   A lawyer cannot control what the other side is going to do – what they are going to want, what they are going to offer, or what evidence they have that you don’t know about yet.  A lawyer cannot at all tell what a jury or judge is going to do after a trial.  It is tantamount to telling the future.  Lawyers are not psychic.  (And sorry to break it to you – no one is a psychic.)


What is allowed?  Lawyers can present all the likely and unlikely outcomes – the full range of possibilities.  In a criminal case, they should go over the full range of punishment.  They can discuss the likelihood of dismissal.  They can discuss the likelihood of probation.  But particularly in a first phone call or first consult, this is all to be done with generality.  It is not until your attorney gets all the evidence together, completing the discovery process, and starts negotiations with the opposing party – the prosecution in a criminal case – that it becomes more clear what the options in your case are. 


To put it succinctly – do not ask a lawyer if s/he can get your case dismissed and keep calling lawyers until you find one that assures you s/he can.  That inevitably going to get you someone treading in unethical territory and is probably interested more in your money than in your case.  The best lawyers are going to explain they cannot promise a result and will do the best they can in your case given the facts, the evidence, policies in that county, and your history.