The dangers of stonewalling when being asked a question

Stonewalling Law FirmAs lawyers, we know we cannot predict certain results.  What a judge or jury might do as it relates to a case can be highly variable.  Yes, we might have hunches.  Yes, we might have seen roughly similar fact patterns and recall those experiences.  But, no, it’s impossible to guaranty certain results for most clients.  We all know that different judges and juries can rule different in cases that present similar fact patterns (and sometimes the same judge can appear to be malleable in similar fact patterns).  This is especially true during initial consultations and when a case is in the elementary stages.

Having said that, clients often have questions during an initial consultation or after they have become a client.  They want answers to these questions.  They want to have a specific roadmap in terms of what to expect.  They want to know what is going to happen.  They will often assume the attorney knows that the judge or jury is going to do in almost certain terms–and that the attorney is simply being coy when they refuse to tell.

Instead, of having an open dialogue with clients using IRAC based answers when presented with a directed question, many attorneys freeze up.  This then causes them to stonewall or dodge the question.  When asked whether X, Y or Z might happen in their case, they resort to answers like:

  • “It depends on some factors.”
  • “It will be up to the judge.”
  • “It will be up to the jury.”
  • “I cannot guaranty any specific results.”
  • “I cannot predict the future.”
  • “I don’t know for sure.”

Certainly, all of these answers are probably largely true when a potential client asks a question during an initial consultation.   These answers may also still be true as the case is progressing along and no ruling has been made by a judge or jury.

But instead of jumping right to the conclusion by saying only, “I don’t know” or something similar, tilt toward giving IRAC answers instead.  IRAC stands for issue, rule, analysis and conclusion.  Ultimately, your conclusion might be one of the statements referenced above in some form or capacity.

However, to answer the question to the satisfaction of the client or potential client, an attorney has to make sure they restate and understand the issue.  They then have to make sure the give the general rule of law as it relates to the question is stated.  They then need to analyze the variables that might be out there, including the pros and the cons of the case.

And, then, in the end, the conclusion has to be given.  And the conclusion might be some kind of hedge, like it will be up to the judge or jury to decide (if this is true, of course).  But this vague conclusion cannot be the only statement coming out of the attorney’s mouth.  If that’s all the attorney says, they appear as if they dodging the question just like a politician would.  Or they appear as if they are completely unknowledgeable.  This is not helpful in terms of retaining new clients or keeping current clients satisfied.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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