Lawyer confidence is no reliable predictor of case outcome

1 JANUARY 2003

Research by a CSU academic and her international colleagues shows that lawyers overestimated or inflated the chances of achieving goals set for their clients in civil and criminal cases.

CSU's Professor Jane Goodman-DelahuntyResearch by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic and her international colleagues shows that lawyers overestimated or inflated the chances of achieving goals set for their clients in civil and criminal cases. 
 
The study, led by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty from the School of Psychology and the Australian Graduate School of Policing at CSU, indicated that lawyers were over-optimistic in their predictions about the outcome of their cases
 
The higher the expressed level of confidence, the more likely lawyers were to fall short of meeting their goals. More years of legal practice and experience did not make lawyers better calibrated. Male lawyers were less accurate than their female counterparts and more susceptible to the overconfidence bias.   
 
“Forecasts by lawyers of case outcomes play an integral role in the justice system because 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,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.
 
“Lawyers who do not objectively perceive litigation risks may advise their clients to reject reasonable settlement offers. Clients who rely on lawyer confidence as an indicator of the case outcomes may be misled.”
 
This study investigated realism in predictions by a sample of 481 attorneys across the United States (US) who specified the minimum goal they expected to achieve in a case set for trial. The lawyers predicted their chances of meeting this goal by providing a confidence estimate. After the cases were resolved, the case outcomes were compared with the predictions.
 
Professor Goodman-Delahunty said, “Our large sample of US lawyers showed clear evidence of unrealistic litigation goals. Our experimental manipulation to de-bias optimistic tendencies did not have the desired effect.
 
“This study extended previous research on the judgment and decision making by legal professionals, and has implications for lawyers in Australia and elsewhere.
 
“Because accurate legal decision-making might be in jeopardy as a function of lawyers’ optimistic tendencies, further research is needed to explore ways to enhance calibration, such as  performance feedback. Further investigation is needed to test the extent to which input from an external party can improve lawyers’ realism in making case predictions and achieving their objectives,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.

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