The mother of potential client called me the other day; she had been looking for a lawyer on the web. She had called one of the “nationwide” criminal defense corporations (you know the ones — they have names like corporations instead of groups of human beings). She reported to me that they told her that for $15,000 they would give her son a 99% chance of beating his case. (I had already quoted her a reasonable and substantially lower fee, and told her the truth: that nobody could truthrully guarantee a result, but that I was familiar with the judge and I thought we might have a good chance on the facts as she described them if we approached the problem in this-and-such sort of way. A lawyer can never truthfully say, based only on a telephone conversation with the client’s mother, that there is only a 1% chance of the client losing.)
So that got me thinking: what kind of varmint tells the mother of a kid in trouble that for $15 grand he’ll give her kid a 99% chance of skating? 99% is a weasel number — it’s high enough that the potential client sees it as a guarantee, but low enough that, if things don’t go exactly the way the client wants, the lawyer can shake his head and say “I never guaranteed we would win.”
The answer, of course, is that only a lawyer who doesn’t care about his clients would make that kind of promise. Only a lawyer who doesn’t care about his clients is going to tell them what he thinks they want to hear. Any lawyer who cares is going to tell his clients the truth as he sees it from day one — before he is hired.
The irony is that a lot of people are more likely to hire the lawyer who tells them what they want to hear. So lots of people are more likely to hire the lawyer who doesn’t care about them. The bright side is that when they do, and when things don’t happen as 99% promised, they come to me and try to get me to fix things.
(Do you have lawyer advertising horror stories of your own? Drop me a comment and let me know.)