Illuminating Innumeracy

47 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2012 Last revised: 3 Oct 2015

Lisa Milot

University of Georgia Law School

Date Written: July 31, 2012

Abstract

Everyone knows that lawyers are bad at math. Many fields of law, though — from explicitly number-focused practices like tax law and bankruptcy, to the less obviously numerical fields of family law and criminal defense — require interaction with, and sophisticated understandings of, numbers. To the extent that lawyers really are bad at math, why is that the case? And what, if anything, should be done about it?

In this Article, I show the ways in which our acceptance of innumeracy harms our ability to practice and think about the law. On a practical level, we miscalculate numbers, oversimplify formulas, and, ultimately, misapply mathematical principles. These shortcomings, then, cause us to misunderstand and accept without question the assumptions and biases hiding in the shadows of numerical information, limiting our ability to fully represent our clients.

In an effort to begin to understand and move beyond the innumeracy present in the law, I distinguish between two types of innumeracy by lawyers: objective innumeracy (or a lack of math competence) and subjective innumeracy (or a lack of math confidence) and suggest that empirical research into the causes of legal innumeracy is needed. I conclude by providing suggestions for beginning to overcome innumeracy in the law in our roles as practitioners, lawmakers, law professors, and law students.

Keywords: legal education, math, numbers, family law, estate planning, tax law, criminal law, evidence, innumeracy, mathematics, oversimplification, computational errors, mathematical principles

JEL Classification: K10, K14, K19, K34

Suggested Citation

Milot, Lisa, Illuminating Innumeracy (July 31, 2012). Case Western Reserve Law Review, Vol. 63, (2013); UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2120504

Lisa Milot (Contact Author)

University of Georgia Law School ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States

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