Get It in Writing!
I heard a complaint recently from someone who had hired a lawyer for a criminal case in Harris County after the lawyer a) texted her out of the blue on the cellphone; and b) promised to get her case dismissed within six months.
The unsolicited text message was a violation of various rules and laws (see the TCDLA Voice for the Defense article here), and the promise was—as this client discovered—a lie.
Don't hire sleazy lawyers. If a lawyer is breaking the rules to get you to hire him, he is a crook. You may think you want a lawyer who cheats, but the cold hard truth is that you are the only one who is going to get cheated, because you are the only one who trusts him. The judges, prosecutors, and every other lawyer in the courthouse knows who the sleazy lawyers are, and doesn't trust them with anything. You can only get cheated by people you trust. You have to trust your criminal-defense lawyer. Therefore you have to have a lawyer that you can trust, which means a lawyer who is generally trustworthy.
You probably had no reason to know, before you read this page, that lawyers are prohibited from soliciting business by text messages. Now that you know, you know that the lawyers doing this are cheats, and so are not generally trustworthy. So now you don't trust them. (You probably don't trust the lawyers who claim to be "Top 100" or "Top 10" or "Top 40 Under 40" or whatever either. Good!)
And if the client who made the complaint to me had known that the lawyer was an untrustworthy sleaze, it probably would have prevented her other problem, which is that she took the lawyer's promise—that he would get the case dismissed within six months—as true, and paid him $5,000 to do so … and he didn't do so.
The lawyer knew the promise was false. The client didn't know the lawyer was a sleaze. Worse, she didn't know she didn't know. It didn't even occur to her that a lawyer might lie to get her business.
Friends, let it occur to you.
And if a lawyer you don't know well makes a promise to you, and it matters, get it in writing. If it's true, he should have no problem writing it down. And if he won't write it down, it was probably a lie. Run far away, fast.
Okay, but what if he will write it down, but "I guarantee" becomes "I am 99% sure"?
That's no guarantee at all. Naive clients sometimes think that the "99%" means something, but unless you already know and trust the lawyer, it might as well be "0%". Why? Because it can never be proven false. Imagine: a lawyer says "I am 99% sure I can get your case dismissed in six months." You pay him $4950 for representation. Seven months later, you confront him with the fact that your case was not dismissed. "Oh, yeah," he says, "this is the 1%."
But is it? Or was he lying in the first place? You'll never know for sure.
A promise like that is in some ways worse than a false guarantee, because the false guarantee can at least be shown to have been false.
So if a lawyer makes you promises to get your business, get them in writing, and if they are anything less than 100%, don't rely on them.
We resist predicting outcomes to potential clients. We might say,
Here's what we've been able to achieve in cases that appear to be similar to yours, but every case is different, and we might not know until we've been hired and have investigated the case how your case is different than other cases.
This works both ways. As well as cases in which the facts turned out to be much stronger for the State than we knew at first, we have been hired on cases that appeared to be hopeless, where it looked like all we would be able to do would be to fight for lesser punishment, that have turned out to be much stronger for the defense—even to the point where we could make them go away.
The point here is that almost never can anyone predict in the beginning what will happen in your case.
Almost never. There are cases that are quite likely going to be trivially easy to resolve—so easy that any warm body with a law degree could resolve them for you. Many, many misdemeanor cases in Texas are resolved with pretrial diversions. If you have a first DWI in Harris County, and you didn't have an accident, and your BAC was under 0.15, and you have no other criminal history, you are probably going to get a pretrial diversion if you want one. If you successfully complete a pretrial diversion, the case is dismissed. So a lawyer might guarantee dismissal in your DWI-first case, and be right practically all of the time. It's an easy case.
But you need to ask yourself is whether you want to pay $5,000 (what the other lawyer charged the complaining client, remember, for a false guarantee) to a warm body with a law degree, when surely there are warm bodies with law degrees who can get the easy job done much cheaper.
We don't take "easy" cases. If it really is easy, there is someone else who can do it, leaving us to make a difference in the more challenging cases.