Decision-Making Skills

Are You a Good Chooser?

By | Mar.11.15 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice, Skills, Strategy

Decision Making

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.

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2 Responses to “Are You a Good Chooser?”

  1. Mike O'Horo
    11 March 2015 at 10:30 am #

    With some exceptions, decisions are group decisions. While occasionally we make a decision that’s isolated to ourselves and our sole interests, most involve other people. Collections of multiple stakeholders are obvious decision-making groups, but a single seller and single buyer are also a group that must arrive at a mutually acceptable decision.

    There’s actually an existing science for group decision-making. Many years ago I was in a venture with some smart guys from MIT who were experts in group decision-making, and systems. They shared the research underlying the science and taught me the process. Together, we created a web-based version of it. There are many aspects of it that are counter-intuitive, but it works reliably.

    Below is a link to a case study of how we applied this process to a law firm making a marketing strategy decision. Because it was my client and I spoke the language of the law firm, and the language of the decision-process experts, I was in the middle of this facilitation. In the computer-speak of my colleagues, I served as the “compiler.” (The process isn’t for the timid. It requires strength and discipline. It’s messy, and occasionally loud.)

    One of the outcomes of this process is that at least one person on the client’s team learns how to facilitate decisions of any type. After this formal exercise, the firm’s COO (and my co-author of the case study) said that they applied this to every meaningful decision, and estimated that it saved her 2 hours per day. She’s no longer in the law biz, but I’m still in touch with her. If anyone wants to pick her brain, I’m confident she’ll accommodate.