Have you worked with an attorney, and noticed they would never quite say for sure whether your case would succeed? Well, you were right – and so were they.
It’s a stark and undeniable truth: legal outcomes are always uncertain. Yet emotionally charged, high-stakes scenarios mean that clients usually seek counsel hoping it will assure their success.
Absolutes and guarantees simply are not compatible with the legal realm. That’s why this piece aims to explain a perspective that values pragmatism – not naive optimism.
Why Litigation Takes So Long And Holds No Promises
The court system is inherently unpredictable. From murky statutes to judicial discretion to jury subjectivity, no well-qualified U.S. attorney will ever give a guarantee or promise of 100% success.
It is taught in all law schools throughout the country: “Promise nothing.”
Absolute assurances are an injustice, coming from a legal professional. (Otherwise, what is the opposing attorney getting paid for?)
Even skillful representation can only influence – not control – what is ultimately a decision largely influenced by a judge or jurors’ personal experiences.
As one report revealed, in a sample of slip-and-fall cases against Los Angeles, settlement offers spanned from $2,500 to $100,000 – compared to jury awards, which topped $3 million in one case and were generally far higher than settlements.
Not surprisingly, the city strongly preferred out-of-court settlements – which meant the likelihood of taking such a case to court was lower. For any client or attorney pursuing their case in L.A., they had to weigh the potential benefits of either approach.
This staggering difference in results makes it clear just how murky even a simple case can be.
On top of the court system’s unpredictability, lawyers themselves operate under competing obligations:
- The duty to “zealously protect and pursue a clients’ legitimate interests,” and
- The duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States and “remain within the bounds of the law.”
It is difficult (and often near impossible) to pursue them both equally and simultaneously. And yet, what is the point of justice if it is not worth fighting for?
Make no mistake about it — justice is a fight, one that dedicated attorneys are prepared to argue for any day of the week, despite no promise of the outcome.
The American Bar Association explicitly advises lawyers against assuring specific outcomes to prospects, an ethical stance echoed by state professional codes. Many legal experts caution that such promises of results make it more difficult to provide effective counsel, as they narrow the window of options for success.
Some clients may not consider taking a settlement, for example, if they believe a court victory is assured. But, they also may simply seek out another attorney who will tell them what they want to hear.
So what is a skilled and responsible attorney to do? And with no precise metrics or ethical leeway for reassuring promises, how do clients proceed?
Finding Your Way Through the Fog
The key lies in choosing an advisor who helps you navigate through the fog – not one who pretends it doesn’t exist.
This means finding an attorney who is fully transparent about the variables at play in your unique situation. They should strategically guide you toward resolutions that balance risk and reward, rather than dealing in absolutes.
Research shows that attorney ability does significantly impact defendants’ outcomes. For example, drawing a more skilled attorney in the random assignment process can reduce a defendant’s incarceration time.
And while the law contains inherent doubt, attorney-client privilege fosters open dialogue in which you can both air out uncertainties. Where guarantees fail, transparency succeeds.
The uncertainty of legal outcomes is nothing new. Yet rapidly evolving areas like technology and privacy are unsettling the legal bedrock, yielding even more surprises.
Savvy professionals and companies can equip themselves by aligning with advisors tracking these seismic shifts in real-time, to call out pitfalls and possibilities alike – and use the latest tech (such as RegTech, or Regulation Tech) to their advantage.
At some point, every person and every organization will encounter legal uncertainties that give pause.
But there are always next steps forward. With an expert guide sensitive to the modern terrain, you have the best possible chance of climbing even the rockiest slope.