One of the remarkable things I discovered upon entering law school was the number of students who would make arguments about matters of controversy, and make such arguments without nary a bit of doubt. Law students, and in fact, attorneys are often rewarded for their overconfidence, because being confident is an important part of being persuasive.
Remember, there is nothing scientific about the law. If you are a doctor, then nature decides whether you are correct. Your patient gets well or does not. But a lawyers’ ability is decided by, you guessed it, another lawyer who has done well enough to wear the black robe.
That is why it is not surprising to me, nor probably to many other people, to find a study that states that lawyers (particularly men) consistently overestimate their ability to obtain results.
After tabulating the results on the first part of their study, the authors stated “In summary, far more lawyers were susceptible to overconfidence bias than to the underconfidence bias. In general, the higher the expressed level of confidence, the greater the overconfidence.” Other results noted by the authors include the following:
- Only those female lawyers with confidence rates above 75% showed bias in the direction of overconfidence and compared with female colleagues, male attorneys whose confidences rates exceeded 66% showed systematic bias towards overconfidence;
- The data did not support the hypothesis that more lawyers with more legal experience associates with better calibration relative to lawyers with less legal experience – years of practice “does not count for much, as far as calibration goes”;
- No difference in either confidence estimates or success rates between civil and criminal lawyers;
- No relation between confidence levels and temporal distance to trial;
- Lawyers’ subjective reactions to case outcomes showed a tendency toward overconfidence – approximately two-thirds of all lawyers were pleased or very pleased with their case outcomes, but lawyers achieved their goals in only 57% of those cases; although 43% failed to achieve their minimum goals for litigation, fewer than one-fifth, 18%, were very disappointed or somewhat disappointed with their case outcomes, and in this group of failure to achieve minimum goals, two-thirds actually reported they were somewhat pleased or pleased with the actual case outcomes;”