A jack is a tool with utilitarian value used for practical and beneficial purposes. We jack up a vehicle to change a flat tire. Or we jack up a house to move it to a new location for the benefit of the owner. Jacks raise, lift, or elevate an object, and we refer to the task as one where we “get it jacked up” to beneficially serve a need.
Obviously, people can also get “jacked up”, figuratively so, in a mentally stimulated sense. Not the Urban Dictionary, altered-state-of-mind sense, but in the sense of getting jacked with excited anticipation. Coaches get a team jacked up to expect and achieve a win. We get a buddy jacked up to believe the girl will say yes when he asks her to dance. Thus, there are desirable, beneficial purposes for getting someone “jacked up.”
With respect to an attorney’s professional relationship with a client, however, a jack is of no beneficial use. An attorney must be leery of getting a client’s expectations “jacked up”.
Clearly, the temptation can arise when a client’s actual damages are significant and undisputable, the tortious conduct causing the damages is reasonably clear, and the egregious nature of the conduct might easily warrant an award of punitive damages. Understandably, the client wants to cut to the chase and hear that the case will successfully produce significant compensation. And in response, the attorney’s temptation is to please the client, to confirm that the client’s case has significant value which the client will soon realize, and to get the client’s expectations all “jacked up.” It is part of our human condition to succumb to that temptation.
But consider whether there is any desired, beneficial purpose served by an attorney’s conduct in getting a client all jacked up in that manner, because it is not free and clear of all adverse consequences. In reality, there is no beneficial purpose for needlessly jacking up a client’s expectations as to specific results the client will obtain as the disastrous and detrimental consequences of doing so weigh heavy in the end.
An attorney has no ability, either ethically or realistically, to provide an accurate prediction of the actual value of a claim, or the actual results that will follow from the course of legal work in any particular case. Every client’s case progresses on its own facts and takes its own unique procedural and legal course. Presentations of jury verdict research or comparisons with other clients’ circumstances are not useful because we know the facts and circumstances of even a “similar” case can be substantively different from the facts and circumstances of a present client’s case in uncontrollable ways. There may be a different presiding judge, a different jury composition, or even a temporally different societal climate. Most clients will not be familiar with the reality of all the ways in which even a “similar” case can be substantively different, so a comparison is not reasonably helpful.
No good can come from jacking up a client’s expectations, and it is instead a setup for certain failure that will come back to bite the attorney in every way. When the ultimate results do not meet the client’s expectations, the client’s natural thought will be that the attorney must have committed some error, and at that moment the seed of a malpractice claim, meritorious or not, is planted. Then, when the malpractice claim is filed, the client will hold the jacked expectations against the attorney. The attorney then must discredit his or her prior statements to the client, and work with defense counsel to argue all the ways in which the case was not “worth a million bucks.”
And consider whether a client’s jacked expectations will be easily lowered when it becomes necessary to do so to reach a favorable settlement for the client’s benefit. Unforeseen and adverse circumstances can arise which render a compromise settlement the more favorable alternative to staying the course that the client expected to take. If that favorable option arises, then the attorney must first convince the client the case is not as valuable as the expectation to which the attorney jacked the client. The client’s expectations may prevent what can be, in reality, a very reasonable and beneficial settlement. Then, the fallout of a favorable settlement opportunity that was lost due to a client’s expectations can have ripple effects, including additional unnecessary time spent on the case, additional expenses and attorney’s fees, the loss of valuable time needed for other clients and matters, and the cultivation of further seeds of possible malpractice claims that are based upon jacked expectations.
Realistic reasonableness should prevail. Avoid expectations and celebrate the accomplishments achieved thus far in the case. An attorney can, instead, work to quietly instill in the client confidence that the attorney is diligently working with the client towards the best result available under ever changing circumstances. There is no use for a jack. Jacks are generally missing from most seasoned vehicles, and most seasoned attorneys similarly have no need for them.