Do you know enough to know when you don’t know enough and ought to retain outside counsel?

“Am I competent to handle this problem or should I check with outside counsel?” Regrettably, some in-house counsel choose poorly. More regrettably, the less competent lawyers choose the most poorly.

“When we lack a particular skill we not only overestimate our capabilities, but we are also blissfully ignorant of our failings.” A harsh finding of psychology researchers, but as summarized in ACC Docket, Vol. 28, Sept. 2009 at 124, in-house lawyers may fall prey to believing they are sufficiently experienced to cope with a situation, when the better course would be to call a partner who truly knows the law.

The column doesn’t mince words about our intellectual hubris: “The worse someone is at a particular task, the more likely he is to have unwarranted optimism about completing it. The greater a person’s skill, the more accurate his predictions will be.” Know what you know and know what you don’t know, and have the wisdom to recognize the difference (See my post of Sept. 9, 2009: tough-guy, we can do it, attitude of inside lawyers.).

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