How to know when a lawyer is being honest

A recent TV interview with the father of a capital murder suspect contained a line that caught my attention. The dad was explaining how difficult it is to find and afford counsel for someone facing a serious criminal charge. The dad said he had spoken with a lawyer about representing his son, and the lawyer had quoted him a six-figure fee and told the dad he could not guarantee any specific result.

I don't know who that lawyer was, because the dad didn't say. But I can tell you this about that lawyer: He is an honest one.

I hear stories from time to time of lawyers supposedly offering potential clients a guarantee that their case will be dismissed, or that they will be acquitted, or that the case will be nonadjudicated. That's unfortunate. No lawyer can ever guarantee you a specific result in a criminal case. It is unethical, and on top of that it's just impossible to do.

At the end of the day, the criminal defense lawyer isn't the one who decides a criminal case any more than a doctor is the one who decides who gets better and who doesn't. In fact, you hire a criminal defense lawyer for the same reason you hire a doctor when you are sick: you have a problem and you need a well-trained professional to do everything possible to fix it. A doctor can't promise you that your cancer will go away forever, or that a surgery will make your back as good as new. Those things are within a doctor's ability to influence, but are outside of her ability to control.

Criminal defense lawyers are in the same situation. There are things we can influence regarding the outcome of your case, but we don't control the outcome of your case. So if you find a criminal defense lawyer telling you he can't guarantee how your case will turn out, that's that not a sign of incompetence. It's a sign of honesty.

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