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Overestimating case outcomes

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 14, 2010 in Randomness

Via the ABA Journal Online:

I rarely check out the news stories that come through to my BlackBerry from the ABA Journal Online, but the headline for this one caught my eye: “Lawyers — Especially Men — May Be Too Optimistic About Case Outcomes, Survey Says”

A law professor at the University of California Irvine has co-authored a research paper into attorney predictions of success in their cases. From the research results, 44% of case outcomes were less successful than the “minimum goals” set by the attorney. More confident attorneys missed their goals more often than less confident ones. And male attorneys tend to overestimate results more than females.

The whole 25-page paper is a lot more detailed and definitely worth a read. It includes some interesting and counterintuitive findings (e.g. estimating results doesn’t seem to improve with years of experience).

But my question is this: although a majority of attorneys meet-or-exceed their minimum goals, how is that 44% able to stay in business? They apparently not only add and retain paying clients, but according to the paper also likely include a hefty chunk of senior partners and other high-ranking litigators. I’d think overestimating results would lead to some kind of economic and professional repercussions, not rising to senior partner status.

The paper concludes more research is needed to control for other factors, so maybe we’ll find out eventually. Until then it’s something interesting to chew on.

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