In my national survey of lawyers, lawyers report clients often have unrealistic expectations or misperceptions about “what lawyers can do and can actually achieve for their client.” Overall, lawyers responding to the survey felt that many-perhaps, too many-clients expected their lawyer to be able to resolve any problem at minimal expense in a short amount of time. This is because the lawyer should not have to research the law, or prepare for hearings, as they should already “know” the law and be appropriately experienced. Clients expect “fairness” from the lawyer and legal system because to them what is “fair” should supersede what is “legal.”
Clients do not seem to understand that while a lawyer can do everything right and get the right result for the client, the lawyer can also do everything right and still not get the result the client wants. Some clients may also think that if the lawyer really wants to fix a case, they can. It is only matter of choice, will power, and payment.
Too often clients think that if they will only pay lawyers enough, they can make their problem go away. Clients tend to think that lawyers win all of the time. But, at the same time, they see lawyers as only as good as their last victory. Moreover, if the lawyer was not successful, it was their fault. Whenever lawyers explain that what clients want done is not possible, the clients invariably will not believe them. Instead they go to someone else who will tell them what they want to hear, take the fee, and then not deliver because they cannot.
Because a lawyer works in a special area that deals with a government agency, clients may think that somehow the lawyer has some control or sway over the workings of that agency with respect to the client. Lawyers who have worked with tax controversies, for example, have found that their clients think their lawyer can influence the IRS with respect to pursuing collections. That they can talk to judges and officials to make it work. Worse yet, some expect that a dismissal in a criminal case can be simply purchased or fixed.
Clients believe that having a superhero and vicious fighter in their corner isthe answer to their legal problems. This is because it does not matter what the client has done; the lawyer will do anything it takes, including lying for them, to get them what they want.
Unfortunately, some clients want “justice,” apologetic behaviors from others, and concessions they cannot get. Lawyers cannot get the abstract “justice” they want. They cannot control the tactics of the other side or force the other side to tell the truth, (i.e., agree with the client’s version of the story). They cannot get the client’s adversaries to know, or admit, that they were wrong. Because a client desires something does not mean a lawyer can provide it.
Many people think that a case can be easily won without any personal effort on their own part. They also get frustrated by the court system, as they do not understand that a lawyer must work within the framework of the law and court rules. Frequently clients do not see that judges do not always perceive things the client and lawyer’s way (the same with juries when they are involved), irrespective how well the lawyer has handled the case.
Lawyers need to educate their prospects about the realities of consulting, hiring, and working with a lawyer. These issues will be discussed in other lawyer survey reports.