The Fundamental Attribution Error and its application to in-house lawyers

The Fundamental Attribution Error misleads when you blame an individual for something that went wrong, when in fact things happening around the person were much more important causes of the snafu.

If an indemnity agreement as signed hugely favors the other side, you can come down on the lawyer responsible, but perhaps the client over-rode the lawyer’s advice, or the other side set an impossible deadline to close the deal, or an avalanche of deals clobbered the lawyer at the same time, or outside counsel was in charge of those terms, or someone substituted the wrong page at 3:35 AM in the morning, or three bigger issues were negotiated very favorably as a trade-off. All the explanations are environmental factors that weaken or eliminate individual blame.

If something goes wrong, supervisors should always consider situational forces in addition to personal shortcomings; the Fundamental Attribution Error teaches that context, not incompetence, may have caused the flub.

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