• July 30, 2014

DiceThis question might sound easy to some readers but it is, in fact, extremely difficult.

As discussed below, there are significant problems with relying on reputation. There are even problems with relying on a lawyer’s “track record.” The best answer is for consumers of legal services to shop around, talk to more than one lawyer and ask them all hard questions — questions about your legal matter, about their experience or expertise, about their resources and your needs, and their explanation or justification of their fees.

On The Limits of Reputation

If you are “plugged in” to a community, then you will tend to ask trusted people for a referral. This can be a very reliable source of information. Maybe the most reliable. But it can also be a source of erroneous information.

Michael Mauboussin is a Managing Director and Head of Global Financial Strategies at Credit Suisse and he is the author of “The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck.” Mauboussin points out that humans are social and herd-like. As a result, their judgments can be skewed, influenced, and distorted by a predisposition in favor of consensus. Popularity or reputation can be a kind of upward (or downward) self-perpetuating spiral. Popularity can be undeserved.

(So, for example, authors J.K. Rowling and Stephen King published books under pseudonyms which did not sell well until the true authors’ names were revealed. Then, the books became exponentially more popular. The books’ qualities did not suddenly improve.)

On The Challenge of Choosing a Lawyer Based on “Track Record”

Someone who flips a coin four times, calls “heads,” and gets four “heads,” is not “good at coin tossing.” She is lucky.

No trial lawyer will deny that trials are inherently uncertain. Any trial lawyer with experience trying cases will have “won some she should have lost and lost some she should have won.” That is, civil litigation entails significant degrees of uncertainty, risk, and luck.

“The trial lawyer who has never lost a case has not tried enough cases,” an experienced trial lawyer told me at the start of my career.

Again, as Mauboussin points out (quoting Jonathan Gottschall, The Story Telling Animal):

The story-telling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will to to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factor that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t.

This is a human trait. Nature abhors a vacuum and, in the same way, our minds reject uncertainty. As Mauboussin points out, if you tell a human being an outcome, the human being will, without any basis for any explanation and completely involuntarily, give you a cause. That is, we “manufacture lies.”

As a consequence, this means that clients (judges, colleagues, bloggers, everyone) will judge lawyers on outcomes even when the outcomes may not be attributable to any positive or negative aspects of the lawyers’ performances. (Can anyone doubt that the lawyers in the high profile Ventura v. Kyle case will have their reputations burnished or tarnished by the outcome of that case even though we all recognize that another jury could just as easily have come out the other way?)

“But, wait,” a reader might object, “is all human success a matter of luck? Do you think that Usain Bolt wins running races by luck?” Of course not. The whole point of athletics is that rules are devised that to remove chance as much as possible, to match skill vs. skill. In any more complex system (law, medicine, commerce, etc., etc.), the roles of skill vs. luck are far more difficult to tease apart.

And, finally, my pitch…

I promote my legal practice and my law firm saying, “Committed. Ethical. Experienced. Successful.” The order of the qualities is intentional.

I tell prospective clients that I will examine their matters at no cost initially. If I can think of a lawyer or a law firm who I sincerely believe can do the job better at a better rate, I will tell the clients so. I see that as my professional and ethical duty.

If I think that LEVENTHAL pllc is the client’s best fit, I can and do guaranty commitment, adherence to the highest ethical standards, and experience. I cannot guaranty success though many of my clients have enjoyed successful outcomes.

If you are dealing with civil litigation in Minnesota state or federal court and if you are looking for a lawyer with experience in civil litigation, why not call ((612) 234-7349)?

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