Law Ruler April 2024
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Innumeracy Strikes Again — and Again

By Theda C. Snyder

“That’s 110% accurate,” said the attorney. I mentally groaned.

innumeracy

Pretty much everyone knows the definition of illiteracy: an inability to read and write. Innumeracy is an inability to use mathematics. At a CLE seminar, a speaker joked, “I was told there would be no math.” 

I’m not laughing.

Communicating ignorance does not make you sound smart or powerful. Quite the contrary.

Innumeracy Is Everywhere

This unfamiliarity with mathematical concepts frustrates many professionals trying to elicit information. Some mediators and settlement officers ask lawyers to predict the outcome of their case if they tried it 10 times. “We would win 11 times” is not the right answer. If the challenge is to rank something from one to 10, the answer is never a number more than 10.

Lawyers and their clients frequently tell me that something is 1,000% true. Law firm managements exhort employees to give 110% to the job.

One hundred percent of something is the whole thing. No matter how devoted or sure a person is, the most one can give of any one thing is 100%.

Percentages are another way to present a fractional amount. Misunderstanding percentages and fractions can interfere with your ability to negotiate. For example, if you want to discuss a health insurer’s contributions for a claimant’s future medical expense which are likely to be 80% after a deductible, be ready to calculate the amount of that contribution.

Of course, there are correct references to more than 100%. Argentina reported an annual percentage rate of inflation of 140%. Assuming the average rate of inflation for the item, something that cost 100 Argentine pesos in 2022 cost 240 pesos in 2023.

While I understand that advocates may be trying to express fervent support of a position, an impossible claim of more than 100% just sounds silly. Over-the-top assertions undermine your credibility.

Calculators Are Not Just for Dorks

Whether you will be communicating orally or in writing, carefully calculate, discount and project the relevant numbers. Too often, parties start negotiation unprepared to show why their offer or demand is reasonable. That puts you at a disadvantage from the get-go.

Some people are comfortable using their smartphone calculator as their primary device for crunching numbers. But it may be a good idea to have available a stand-alone calculator or another device. In the middle of a discussion you may need to search the internet. On a phone, switching back and forth between the browser and calculator can be cumbersome at best and cause a mistake at worst. Communicating a good grasp of numbers makes you sound smart. You will make a good impression on your clients, prospects and other professionals. I guarantee it 100% (but not more than 100%).

Image © iStockPhoto.com


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Teddy Snyder Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Amazon.com. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at SnyderMediations.com and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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