Lawyers Being Honest, Even (Especially) When It’s Against Our Own Interests?

Colleagues criticize me because, when pitching to handle a case, I don’t “sell myself” enough.  It’s not just that I don’t sell my own experience or skills well enough, but also that I sometimes don’t paint an overly optimistic picture of the case.  What it’s going to cost.  How we’re virtually guaranteed a great outcome. 

These may be valid criticisms, but I’ve always preferred the notion of being conservative about the expected outcome of a case.  I also never want to be accused, at the end of a case, of having misrepresented what it will likely cost to get the desired result.  I’ll admit such honesty has probably cost me business.

It turns out, though, that such honesty may be the very best thing when vying for the role of the trusted advisor.  At a recent conference, I learned that, based on comments gathered from general counsel at major corporations, the perception that an outside lawyer was being honest, potentially against his/her own interests, was actually a relationship “accelerator.”

So, when do opportunities arise for outside counsel to “accelerate” their client relationship through honesty at any cost?  Here are just a few:

1.  “I might not be the best lawyer for this particular case (or deal),” and I know that means you may not hire me.

2.  “I want to make sure you have a realistic idea what this is going to cost,” even though you might decide then not to sue or to settle instead.

3. “Your chances of winning are probably not going to improve by doing this additional discovery,” even though a scorched earth approach is vastly more profitable for me.

In addition to sleeping better at night, an incidental benefit of this kind of honesty is that, while I might not be the perfect lawyer for this particular case, or you decide not to sue this time, I know you are going to trust my judgment.  That’s really what I want, to be the trusted advisor, so you’ll think of me next time, and the time after that.

About Alex Craigie

I am an AV-Preeminent rated trial lawyer. My practice focuses on helping companies throughout Southern California resolve employment and business disputes. The words in this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect the views of the Dykema law firm or its clients. Also, these words are not intended to constitute legal advice, and reading or commenting on this blog does not create attorney-client relationship. Reach me at View all posts by Alex Craigie

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