Dammit! I’m a Lawyer, Not a Soothsayer!

Filed under: Editorials, Practice Tips | |

Problem solving fortune cookie

It is an axiom in the practice of law that lawyers cannot promise a particular result.

It is also axiomatic that as soon as an individual requires the services of a lawyer, they will forget this. So, any question like…

If I do A, what will happen?

Falls into the realm of promising a result, if one tries to answer it. The same goes for the following:

If I do A, will B happen?
How do I stop B from happening?

This is a variation on promising a result, in the sense that it is a protection racket. “We can help you avoid B[ad thing], if you do the following, and pay us money.” The often unspoken part of these questions is…

I know what I want to do, and I want you to tell me that it is going to be ok.

Or, put another way, “I want you to ratify my action and indemnify me against bad consequences.” Now, do lawyers do this? Sure. Absolutely. Lawyers often provide advice on prospective courses of action to protect their clients. However, there has to be the understanding that:

  1. The lawyer cannot guarantee a result.
  2. If things go tits up, the lawyer will effectively go, “Huh? What do you know about that?”

Unfortunately, this tends to not go over well. Which often results in the client either being angry, or suing the lawyer, for not having a good enough crystal ball. Simply put, I hate these questions.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tomasz Stasiuk