Law Firm Management

Keep it Stupid, Simple

Back in 1996 my sister became a doctor. No, not the type that the cabin crew calls for desperately at 35,000 feet when some overworked lawyer has a heart attack. One of the other kinds. In my sister’s case, she holds a Doctorate in Psychology, which is often quite useful given the level of crazy in my family.

For her doctoral thesis, my sister designed an experiment which examined, among other things, the effect of gender on the diagnostic process. She sent a questionnaire to medical doctors and psychologists describing the symptoms of a patient and asking them to suggest a diagnosis. The description of the symptoms received by each clinician was the same, except for one tiny discrepancy. In some cases the patient was described as a woman with certain symptoms typically associated with premenstrual syndrome and which she reported experiencing over several days before the commencement of menstruation. In the others, the patient was described as a man who experienced the same symptoms every four or five weeks.

You can probably see where this is going. Sure enough, the vast majority of the clinicians attributed the symptoms experienced by the woman as relating to her menstrual cycle. Of course, for the man they needed some other diagnosis, so they considered more possibilities and ordering more tests. 

The most amusing response came from a professional who suggested that since the male patient’s symptoms were experienced monthly, perhaps they were related to stress resulting from his wife having premenstrual syndrome.

You have probably heard of the concept of ‘confirmation bias,’ which can be defined as, “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.”

If, after hearing this story, you still do not believe in confirmation bias, it is possible that you simply do not want to believe in it, perhaps because it conflicts with your existing beliefs or theories.

Doctors are pretty smart people. The essence of their jobs requires them to evaluate evidence and make an objective recommendation. They are trained scientists, after all!  It only stands to reason that if they can screw it up based on confirmation bias, presumably lawyers can do it also.

If you can accept that you and your law partners are likely to experience some confirmation bias in your decisions, you might want to give some thought as to how to change your decision-making process on all sorts of things.

Here are a few places to start:  internationally trained lawyers, female litigators, men who take paternity leave, the billable hour, and ‘sink or swim’ as a professional development strategy. I am sure that you can come up with many more.

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