When you estimate probabilities, use numbers, not words

Clients appreciate corporate lawyers who give them a numeric sense of the likelihood of a legal event happening. Everything “might” happen, but what is “likely” to happen and how “likely,” they plead. Whenever you can do so, alleviate the uncertainty with a numeric probability.

If you say that there is a “pretty good chance” that a lawsuit will be filed, that term could variously mean 40 percent, 60 percent or 75 percent. As explained in Alternatives to the High Cost of Lit., Vol. 24, April 2006 at 65, other terms such as “likely,” “probably,” and “generally” can mean significantly different odds to different people – notably speakers and listeners or writers and readers. The likelihood that both will grasp the same number is very small (there, I just committed the error in writing). Maybe its 20 percent?

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