10 Principles to Live By in the Law

Professor Greg Mitchell’s Charge to the University of Virginia School of Law Class of 2014

“Principle Number 9:  If you think you are sure to win a case, convince the client the case is a loser. If you think the case will settle for 50,000 dollars, let the client believe it’s going to take 100,000 dollars to buy this claim off. If you think a project will only take two days to complete, but the partner thinks it will take a week, let the partner believe that and then come in under her expectations. I’m not saying lie to lower expectations, but where there is uncertainty about an outcome, there is nothing wrong with letting people be pessimistic. All judgments are made relative to some context and you have control over an important part of that context by adjusting the expectations to below where you think you will come in. It shouldn’t shock you to learn that there is actual psychological research showing that people who perform better than expectations consistently receive better ratings than people who perform worse than expectations even when the second group objectively has performed better. Judgments are relative to expectations and you have control over that. Now there is going to be a temptation for you to be these optimistic, booster, go-getter types. You know what I’m talking about. Resist that temptation to be one of those people. Who would you rather be? The sunny optimist who told the client that you were going to have a total victory but you only come in winning one summary judgment on one of the two claims in the complaint, or would you rather be that gloomy pessimist who convinced the client all hope is lost and then come in and tell them that you won summary judgment on one of the claims. Lower expectations.”