Attorneys: You’re not Fortune-Tellers

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Attorneys can’t predict the future. Even the most experienced of us cannot provide assurances about the outcome of our client’s claims and defenses. Sure, we’ll provide some suggestions and list the possibilities but it is the attorney who sets unreasonable expectations that may end up in trouble. Just ask the attorneys in Dallas who fell victim to a malpractice claim for allegedly over-promising a particular result to their former client.

In Doores v. Crutcher, a plaintiff claims that his former attorneys billed $400,000 in legal fees to pursue a theory against judgment proof defendants. The plaintiff claims that in 2008 he was scammed into investing in a fraudulent real estate scheme. He hired the defendant law firm to pursue a security fraud claim. The plaintiff alleges that when he retained the law firm he advised them that he wanted to limit his legal fees to $200,000, tops. According to the plaintiff, his former attorneys advised him that the target defendants had executable assets that could satisfy the judgment and that the case was worth pursuing. It was not until after spending over $400,000 that the plaintiff learned that the defendants had no unencumbered assets. He subsequently filed the malpractice suit.

One of the physician’s principle complaints against the defendant firm is that he was misled into believing he had a strong case and that significant attorney’s fees were justifiable.

This newly filed suit demonstrates how a client’s high expectations about the outcome of a case can be dangerous. Attorneys should be careful when valuing a case, predicting an outcome, or assessing the strength of the case to paint a realistic picture of the possible outcomes.   Attorneys should document conversations and take necessary steps to reflect that the attorney has identified all scenarios and that the client is well-informed. A good concept along these lines is: under-promise and over-perform.