The Nonlinearity of Client Investment in Legal Services

ModerationIn a post about Malcom Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, blogger Seth Godin discuss the Law of Diminishing Returns in advocating for moderation. See Seth’s Blog, The Moderation Glitch. He starts with the basic and familiar premise that more is often less:

[O]ur expectation is that most things will respond in a linear way. More input gets us more output. If you want a hotter fire, add more wood. If you want more sales, run more ads.

In fact, it turns out, most things don’t respond in a linear way. It’s more of a steep curve (he calls it an inverted U). For a while, more inputs get you more results, but then, inevitably, things level off, and then, perversely, get worse. One brownie makes you happy, a second brownie, maybe a little more. The third brownie doesn’t make us happy at all, and the fourth brownie makes us sick.

He finishes with the conclusion that “[s]mart organizations need to build moderation-as-a-goal into every plan they make. Every budget and every initiative ought to be on the look out for the sweet spot, not merely ‘more.'” Id.

The same should be said about lawyers and law firms providing legal services. A lawyer, of course, has an obligation to provide competent and diligent services to the lawyer’s client. See Rule 1.1; Rule 1.3. However, being competent means doing enough and no more. It means not boiling the ocean in search of that remotely-possible persuasive authority. It means not dispatching paralegals and associates to scour a warehouse for that unlikely favorable document. It means filing the brief rather than editing it over and over again.

Granted, more effort sometimes might make the client’s case better. But it always makes it more expensive. In providing competent legal services, lawyers should understand the Law of Diminishing Returns and the Pareto Principle. Do the important stuff first, the less important stuff later, and the marginal stuff rarely. More is not always more.