One of the most challenging aspects of a legal career is learning how to keep on your game face. The client looks to you for guidance and expertise. Even in areas where we feel confident, there might occur situations in which you don’t have quite as much experience, therefore, contemplating your decision-making skills. It’s essential, though, that you convey your capability. How do you approach these moments?
Having confidence in your decisions is essential to being an effective lawyer. Let’s look at a couple of ways that you can cultivate better, more informed decisions in your law firm.
Data versus decision making: Confirmation Bias
Personal bias can be highly detrimental to effective decision making. This is not, as you might first think, a bias towards a particular group or type of person. What does happen is that we all tend to move from a data-based decision-making process to one that is more intuitive?
This may seem completely contrary to what we believe about ourselves. The truth is that confirmation bias is something that can taint even the most scrupulous attorney. Confirmation bias is defined as: “The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.”
Simply put – we favor our past experiences when making decisions. We hear what we believe.
How to avoid this, and have more confidence in the information we share with our clients, is to never neglect the data. Things change, statistics are modified, and we need to be vigilant about reviewing each case and its facts with fresh eyes. After all, the landmark National Survey of Career Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction (ABA, 1990), reported that 40% of lawyers cited “intellectual stimulation” as their primary reason for entering the profession. Data and research are where it all begins.
The sheer workload involved in the information-gathering portion of a legal case is probably one of the reasons experienced attorneys begin to fall back on their personal experiences – and by extension, their own biases. Fortunately, the evolution of technology makes the workflow easier and more efficient. It’s possible for all personnel that is involved with a case to work with a centralized database – adding information, reviewing information, and maintaining better control of information. It’s even possible to access office files remotely – there’s no need to call into the office to have someone go to the computer and forward files to us. New information can also be disseminated immediately.
The enemy of cognitive bias is a relentless dedication to examining all the data. Fortunately, technology has made this easier – and it continues to get easier.
Long-term data analysis versus the Clustering Illusion
Let’s look at another common roadblock to empowered decision making. The Clustering Illusion is our tendency to see patterns in a set of limited information. If we have had a recent string of successes with a particular type of case, we may assume that the resolution of the next case with these parameters will have the same result. For example, if we have had a settlement out of court on our last 3 auto accident lawsuits that involved men, we may assume that our next 3 will have the same result.
If you remember back to your days of statistical analysis in college, you might remember that sample size is critical to accurate results in any experiment. This holds true even now. Look past the most recent results, and again, look at the data. This is why research is so important, and why it’s important to do it with every case. Complacency will create overconfidence, and overconfidence can lead to some unpleasant surprises in the outcome of legal proceedings.
Either of these errors in decision making is common, and they are just two examples. There are entire fields of study that are based on the fallacies of how we approach decisions. It’s always good to step back and remind ourselves that data, no matter what, is our friend and that it is also our ally against bias. When we return to our roots, treat each case as a new opportunity to learn and analyze the information, and let our intuition step into the background, we can present a confident, more informed plan to our clients. Empower yourself with data, and both sides of your client relationship will be improved.