“Lawyers Are Overconfident” and other shocking discoveries

Recently posted to SSRN: an article describing a study of lawyers’ prediction about litigation.  It turns out that lawyers are overconfident in their assessments about the likelihood of success.  This result should surprise every person who has never met a lawyer.

The study also found that lawyers don’t improve with experience on this measure, and that men are modestly worse about all of this than women, although neither gender can claim to be well calibrated.  Well, either gender can claim whatever it wants, I suppose.  Those claims just wouldn’t be supported by this set of data.

Abstract below:

Lawyers’ litigation forecasts play an integral role in the justice system. In the course of litigation, lawyers constantly make strategic decisions and/or advise their clients on the basis of their perceptions and predictions of case outcomes. The study investigated the realism in predictions by a sample of attorneys (n 481) across the United States who specified a minimum goal to achieve in a case set for trial. They estimated their chances of meeting this goal by providing a confidence estimate. After the cases were resolved, case outcomes were compared with the predictions. Overall, lawyers were overconfident in their predictions, and calibration did not increase with years of legal experience. Female lawyers were slightly better calibrated than their male counterparts and showed evidence of less overconfidence. In an attempt to reduce overconfidence, some lawyers were asked to generate reasons why they might not achieve their stated goals. This manipulation did not improve calibration.

Michael Moffitt

3 thoughts on ““Lawyers Are Overconfident” and other shocking discoveries”

  1. Apparently the lawyers’ overconfidence bias (and lack of confidence in their counterparts) starts early–before they even get to law school. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey:

    “A down economy hasn’t dampened aspiring lawyers’ confidence in their ability to get a job in the legal field – just their confidence in their peers’ ability to do so. According to a recent Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions survey of 330 pre-law students, 52% report that they are “very confident” that they will find a job in the legal field after graduating law school and passing the bar, but only 16% say they are “very confident” that the majority of their fellow aspiring lawyers will do the same. In fact, only seven percent of respondents indicated a lack of confidence in their own ability to secure employment upon graduation. Pre-law students’ attitudes are in keeping with research showing that students aged 18-29 are more optimistic about their economic future – despite a sluggish job market – than past generations.”

  2. Florrie Darwin’s post is not the first thing that suggests I might no longer be in the 18-29 demographic . I am a tenured professor, and I’m still not “very confident” about my employment prospects…

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