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“Decision tools” – what does that mean for in-house practitioners?

Karen Cottle, the general counsel of Adobe, responded to an interviewer’s question about how to empower subordinates, inform: Life Law, & Business, Issue 1 at 9. She said that general counsel need to make sure those lawyers understand the business and that the general counsel should “giv[e] them the tools to make decisions.” What could Cottle mean by “decision tools”?

The first category includes what everyone agrees are tools.

Tools: People can make better decisions if they use spreadsheets, graphics, visualization software (See my posts of Dec. 9, 2005 and Feb. 16, 2006 on such software.), decision-trees (See my posts of Oct. 24, 2005 on FMC and Jan. 17, 2006 on other aspects.), Monte Carlo simulations (See my post of May 15, 2005.), Franklin T’s, and other decision aids (See my post of April 2, 2006 about Predix.).

What general counsel should not overlook if they bewail poor decision-making are three other categories of tools: knowledge, education, and permission plus protection.

Information: all other things being equal, those who have better information make better decisions (See generally my category on knowledge management.) In another post I will comment on the spectrum from data, through information to knowledge – and even wisdom.

Training: People can improve how they make decisions: Books, courses, consultants, articles and online material galore can help people learn to think and decide more clearly (See my posts of March 18, 2005 on intuition, Sept. 4, 2005 on over-rating our abilities, Sept. 10, 2005 on mental models, Jan. 16, 2006 on risk aversion, and Jan. 17, 2006 on big decisions.).

Empowerment and support: a general counsel needs to tell subordinate lawyers that they should make decisions and – fully as important – that the GC will provide cover if the result takes a wrong turn. Few in-house lawyers will stick their decision neck out if the chopping block looms.

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