Think back through a couple of recent decisions you’ve made or helped make, whether at work or in personal life. Did they turn out well? Was that because you did a good job of choosing? Was there any wasted motion or acrimony? Be honest.
On sober reflection most people — even lawyers — acknowledge that decisions they’ve been part of could have been made better. They realize what a minefield the process of choosing can be. Yet few of us make a concerted effort to avoid the pitfalls. We tend not to think about choice in general as a process around which we can hone skills and to which we can bring specialized tools.
Choice Pervades the Lives of Lawyers
We face professional decisions in serving clients and practical decisions in running our businesses. The choices may deal with case strategy, office technology, staffing or marketing. They can involve solo decision makers or groups. We’re constantly selling and being sold. For some, choices are painful chores. For others, they are welcome opportunities. Either way, it is challenging to make choices well.
Choices can quickly become messy and confusing. It’s alarming how suboptimal most of our decision processes are. If you follow popular psychology or behavioral economics you’re probably sick of studies that demonstrate all the cognitive errors, emotional distractions and other foibles we humans are prone to. We’re “Predictably Irrational.” Especially when we’re “Thinking, Fast and Slow” or “Stumbling on Happiness.”
I believe that poor decision making is one of the biggest problems we face as a profession, and as a society. And that it is eminently improvable.
About 15 years ago — after years of practice, management, teaching, consulting, and software development — I began a journey of deep engagement with the theory and practice of choice. I invented an online system for collaborative deliberation through interactive visualization and founded a company to commercialize it. I developed a law school course on decision making and choice management, have begun to offer workshops in that area, and am working on a book tentatively entitled “Choosing Well: A Guide for Lawyers.” Yet I’m still an enthusiastic beginner who recognizes his decisional amateurism.
A while ago I pulled together 12 mantras about choice in the context of law office technology. Most apply to any kind of decision, whether you’re selecting a new printer or the most compelling argument to advance in an appellate brief. Here are two starting points:
- Be mindful when you find yourself facing a choice. Don’t just think about what you’re choosing; think about how you’re choosing.
- Recognize that a choice is a project. You’ll improve your chances of a good result if you plan and manage it as such.
Pretty obvious, I know. But if you’re like me, simple mantras can come in handy.
So, how about you? Are you proficient at choice making?
Even if you happen to be a good chooser, odds are you could do much better. And so could most of the folks you serve and work with. How to choose better — and help others choose better — will be the subjects of my upcoming posts at Attorney at Work.
Marc Lauritsen, author of “The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter with Knowledge Tools,” is president of Capstone Practice Systems and of Legal Systematics. He’s a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and co-chairs the American Bar Association’s eLawyering Task Force. Follow him on Twitter @MarcLauritsen.