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Law departments need more foxes and fewer hedgehogs

Isaiah Berlin, historian of ideas, distinguished hedgehogs – people who know one big thing – from foxes – who know many little things. Hedgehogs fit what they learn into a world view. Foxes improvise explanations case by case. A column by John Kay, in the Fin. Times, June 20, 2006 at 15 describes research by the American psychologist Philip Tetlock, who uses this metaphor from the animal world, into how well people reason (See my post of Nov.28, 2005 on Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition.).

General counsel and other senior lawyers in law departments should ponder the differences. “Foxes are better at prediction than hedgehogs because they derive information from many sources, adjust their views in line with events and see a range of perspectives on each situation. Hedgehogs have one clear view, seek evidence that confirms that view and have ready explanations for apparent failures of foresight” (See my post of April 17, 2006 on our tendency to seek confirming evidence.).

To push a vision is to be a hedgehog; to have flexible analytic skills needed for good legal judgment is to be a fox. An effective law department needs a management team that brings together both animals.

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