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LawBiz® TIPS – Week of July 16, 2019

You Can't Get Run Over if You Stand Behind Your Work

When is a Lawyer Subject to Disbarment?

The issue of client satisfaction raises the question, "Just what is a satisfied client?" Lawyers often assume that "winning" produces satisfied clients, but no lawyer can ethically guarantee a result. To do so violates Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1, which prohibits "lead[ing] a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation" about what their lawyer can do. However, lawyers can guarantee a certain degree of effort – which does not violate the code, because it deals with factors within the lawyer's own control.

Establishing a budget at the start of an engagement is a form of guarantee. A budget is only an estimate of what's going to happen. However, creating a budget shows clients that their lawyer is sensitive to their needs, and gives the client a sense of what to expect. If budgets use common sense and realism concerning time and expense, they will save the client from surprises, especially when the client is kept constantly informed of actual expenses versus budget.

Alternative fee arrangements are often another form of "guarantee" when they are tied to a specific result. Contingency fees, in which the lawyer gets a stated percentage of the value recovered for the client, are a prominent example. Such billing alternatives reflect a highly interactive process: the lawyer takes a direct financial stake in achieving the desired results, and the client plays an active role in deciding whether those results have been met. Again, the result is greater assurance and risk avoidance for the client.

It's only a short step from this level to "satisfaction guaranteed," and there are firms that have affirmatively embraced such an approach. In our LawBiz® podcasts, we have featured The Summit Law Group, based in Seattle, which offers a variation on guaranteeing satisfaction by providing clients with a "value adjustment line" on its invoices, that allows clients to adjust the billing up or down depending on their perception of value received. For years, Chicago's Ungaretti & Harris has offered the assurance that dissatisfied clients will have their unhappiness resolved to their satisfaction, even if it means reducing their bill all the way to zero.

Bottom line, there is no ethical problem when you guarantee that people will be satisfied working with you and with your service. Of course, don't make this guarantee if you aren't prepared to stand behind (and in front of) your effort.



You Can't Get Run Over if You Stand Behind Your Work

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