Tim Johnson of Carpe Factum recently challenged Iowa patent lawyer Brett Trout and me to show how we "thin-slice" clients and cases. Brett posted first and did a great job with how he thin-slices clients. That leaves thin-slicing cases to me. Thin-slicing is a concept from Malcom Gladwell’s book, Blink, and is about how we as human beings are capable of making sense of situations on the thinnest slice of experience.
So, what five things do I look for to quickly size up a litigation case?
1) Do I like the client? I generally see the good in people. If I don’t like someone there is a significant possibility a jury or judge won’t like them either. That is not to say the client must be perfect. No case is perfect and the client won’t be either. (Just as lawyers are not perfect). But I ask myself about whether I am willing to sit next to this person at trial. It also doesn’t hurt if the other side wears a black hat. But experience tells me a client is never as good and the other side is never as bad as you initially think.
2) What’s the law? You can have huge damages and a wonderful client but if the law is not on your side – forget about it. I turned down the largest damage case that ever walked into my office because it could not be won. You must have a reasonable chance of winning.
3) Am I familiar with the subject matter? Preparation of a case in an unfamiliar area of law costs more time and increases the risk. Plus, I need to be qualified to handle it.
4) Will the recovery be worth the effort? This is true for both the client and lawyer. If it is an hourly case, I consider the likelihood the client will recover significantly more than they have paid in legal fees and expenses. If it is a contingency case, the risk is on my shoulders. So, I consider the likelihood of recovery, the potential amount of recovery, and how much I will need to invest (in time and money) in order to complete the case. It is also important to know whether the judgment is collectible.
5) Is the case interesting or a cause worth pursuing? It helps to have passion for the case. We often live with cases for years at a time. I always ask whether I can make a difference and help someone.
When I follow these factors it tends to lead to more success and happiness both on my part and the client.