Many businesses offer a money back guarantee as a way to overcome a person’s fear or objection to buying. Such a tactic is well known and often used.
But is this a tactic that lawyers can use?
Perhaps, but proceed with caution. At least two ethics opinions have disapproved of “money-back guarantees” in certain situations.
In Formal Opinion 1986-1, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York found that it was improper to guarantee clients they would obtain a permanent visa and if not, they would receive a refund of all legal fees paid to the lawyer. The Committee found such a guarantee was misleading for at least three reasons:
- It could mislead clients as to the attorney’s qualifications or experience. The use of the term might suggest to clients that the lawyer’s expertise “renders virtually certain a favorable result.”
- It could be misleading because it failed to disclose the client would be liable for costs even if the lawyer was unsuccessful.
- It might suggest the lawyer was able to offer a guarantee due to some special influence or expertise that was not possessed by other lawyers.
In Ethics Opinion 2003-2, the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline found that a money-back guarantee to clients in intellectual property matters was improper. The Board found the money-back guarantee violated ethics rules for three reasons that varied slightly from those provided by the Committee in New York:
- Through a money-back guarantee, the lawyer acquires a prohibited proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject of litigation.
- Money-back guarantees create a conflict of interest between the lawyer and the client. If the agreed-upon result is not achieved, then the lawyer has a strong financial incentive to claim the client failed to comply with conditions of the guarantee.
- Money-back guarantees create unjustified expectations about the results the lawyer could achieve.