Now Gladwell’s back again in bound, written form, this time exploring how first impressions affect decision making. In Blink, he argues that by distilling the first few seconds in which we interact with a person, product, or idea into what is useful information and what is misleading, we can learn to make better decisions. “We talk endlessly about what it means to think about a problem, deliberative thinking and rational thinking,” he says. “But we spend very little time talking about this other kind of thinking, which is happening in a split second and which is having a huge impact on real-world situations.”
Then yesterday I read an excellent post by Ernest Svenson at Ernie the Attorney. He notes how lawyers by training or disposition are probably suspicious of quick judgments:
This is certainly true in the legal profession. And, while you generally don’t want to hire a lawyer who runs around making ‘snap decisions,’ part of the reason that many people get frustrated with lawyers is that they don’t ever make quick decisions, particularly if they bill by the hour. Is there room for ‘rapid cognition’ in the legal profession? You bet there is. Are lawyers likely to try to understand how to make better quick decisions? Probably not.
Mr. Svenson then goes on to draw an interesting parallel to one area where a Blink-like philosophy prevails in the law: jury consulting. Two other intrepid writers have also provided insights on Blink and the law: Monica Bay on litigation and Professor Ribstein on governance.
Lawyers providing corporate legal services logically know that successful businesses must make rapid decisions with often incomplete information to compete and win. We also read client survey results that reveal a perception that’s really no surprise: lawyers take too long to provide answers that are too complex and too laden with caveats. Since clients know how 99% of corporate legal services are billed (by the hour), they think they know why rapid response is rare. But these same clients continue to embrace hourly billing like Linus clings to his blanket, signing invoices and not proactively exploring a different way.
One thing that’s clear about the billable hour legal services model: before there can be any change, someone has to blink.