Have you always made the wisest decisions in your legal career?
For yourself? For your clients? I doubt that any of us have. We all make some good and some not-so-good decisions. And yet wise decisions for lawyers and decision guidance for clients are both extremely important to the success of our law practices and legal careers.
Of course attorneys are not the only ones capable of making poor decisions. Just look at the news, at history, watch politics in action, talk to your friends. Making a not-the best decision is commonplace. But it doesn't have to be that way for you.
The techniques for making wise decisions are available to be learned and applied to our legal careers and in the cases we handle. I have been studying decision making since the late 1990s. It is a fascinating area and the subject of numerous publications, websites and blogs. There is a lot of information available if one wants to and takes the time to learn.
Why are so many poor decisions made?
- We are not taught how to make decisions. There are no courses or instruction below the college level that teach the fundamentals of decision making. There are very few undergraduate and graduate level courses and these tend to be focused on business applications. We learn this important life skill solely by observation and trial and error.
- Our brains are physically unable to analyze large quantities of data. Psychologists tell us that we are capable of holding and comparing about seven pieces of data at any one time, yet people often make major decisions involving dozens of factors in their head, without writing anything down or using simple decision making tools.
- We humans have not evolved to rely on logic. Our natural tendency is to solve a problem by trial and error or take the course of action that makes some improvement to our situation.
- It's hard when it's personal. When we are making a decision that affects us personally it is very hard to remain objective and think clearly through to the best solution. The more important the decision the more likely “outcome apprehension” will inhibit clear thinking and good decision-making. I have worked with many lawyer clients, highly intelligent and well educated, who have had great difficulty making wise career decisions for themselves.
How can I make better decisions?
I created a website a few years ago that can help: wisedecisions.com. It is in need of a serious makeover but still provides some good information, take a look. In brief, what you need to do to make better decisions is:
- Break the decision down into steps. I recommend these 7 specific steps to follow:
- Be clear about what to decide.
- Gather the facts.
- Set the criteria for a successful decision.
- Develop your options.
- Evaluate your options.
- Assess the risk for each option.
- Make the decision and follow through.
- Avoid faulty thinking. There are many thinking mistakes possible, for example: erroneous assumptions and predjudices, overconfidence, too narrow framing, confirmation biases, anchoring and non-randomness.
- Use decision tools. There are several on the Wise Decisions website. Particularly helpful are the Criteria Filter and Weighted Criteria Table.
How can wise decision making help me in my legal practice and career?
Here are some examples of situations where wise decision making is vital for your success. As mentioned above, “It's hard when it's personal. ” I have helped attorneys make decisions in the areas below and in numerous other areas:
- What area(s) of law to practice
- Whether to leave the law or not
- What type of firm to work in
- Which job offer to choose
- Whether to leave a law firm for in-house
- Whether to go solo or not
- Whether to make an associate a partner
- Where to locate a law office
- Which marketing strategy will be most effective
- Whether to hire an associate
Check out my Wise Decisions Coaching website for more information about decision coaching.
How can your decision making skills help your clients?
Your clients hire you for your legal expertise. Yet most of the time the client is required to make one or more important decision in his case. It could be as to the type of legal entity to form, whether to accept a plea offer in a criminal case, how to structure his estate for tax purposes or whether or not to settle a lawsuit. We too often lay out the facts, perhaps make a recommendation, and leave it up to the client to decide. Of course the client should make the decision. However, in many situations the client is not well equipped or sufficiently experienced to analyze the available options an make the best choice.
As the attorney, you have the opportunity to provide a greater service to your client by helping him work through his decision. In fact, an argument could be made that an attorney has an obligation to ensure that the client's decision making skills and processes are sufficient to enable him to make a sound decision in his case. By first developing your own decision making skills and then utilizing those skills in guiding your client through his decision making process, you will have performed a greater service for the client and the outcome of the case will most likely be better.
HOW I CAN HELP
- If you have an important decision to make in your law practice or about your legal career, I can help by acting as an unbiased, objective professional guiding you through a methodical step-by-step process to arrive at the best decision.
- If your client has an important decision to make I can help by coaching you on how to guide your client through the process or as an independent professional working directly with the client to make the best decision
- If you are interested in developing your decision making skills I can tutor you and give you the knowledge and tools you need in a short amount of time. Or if you would like I can refer you to some of my favorite decision making books.