Towards a Better Understanding of Lawyers’ Judgmental Biases in Client Representation: The Role of Need for Cognitive Closure

Washington University Journal of law & Public Policy, Forthcoming

33 Pages Posted: 7 May 2019

See all articles by James H. Stark

James H. Stark

University of Connecticut - School of Law

Maxim Milyavsky

Ono Academic College

Date Written: April 10, 2019

Abstract

Previous research demonstrates that lawyers and law students are, on average, prone to overconfidence bias and self-serving judgments of fairness when they take on a representative lawyering role. This is the first study to investigate individual differences in susceptibility to these biases. Expanding on two previous experiments (Loewenstein, et al., 1993; Babcock, Loewenstein & Issacharoff, 1998), and utilizing as our sample 468 law students from twelve geographically diverse U.S. law schools, we examined whether differences in students’ Need for Cognitive Closure (NFC) — a motivational desire for clear answers over ambiguity — would affect both their judicial outcome predictions and their “fair settlement value” assessments of a simulated personal injury case when assigned randomly to the role of plaintiff’s or defendant’s counsel. We also investigated whether high- or low-NFC scores would have any effect on the efficacy of a “consider-the-opposite” (“list the weaknesses of your case”) prompt given to half of our subjects in an attempt to de-bias these assessments. We found that a high need for closure intensifies self-serving bias in both students’ judicial predictions and fair value assessments, and that bias in students’ judicial predictions could be mitigated through de-biasing interventions, even with students high in need for closure. Bias in fairness assessments persisted, despite de-biasing prompts.

Keywords: need for closure, self-serving bias, partisan bias, legal decision-making, negotiation

Suggested Citation

Stark, James H. and Milyavsky, Maxim, Towards a Better Understanding of Lawyers’ Judgmental Biases in Client Representation: The Role of Need for Cognitive Closure (April 10, 2019). Washington University Journal of law & Public Policy, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3368519 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3215860

James H. Stark (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

Maxim Milyavsky

Ono Academic College ( email )

Tzahal Street 104
Kiryat Ono, 55000
Israel

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