Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law
by DOUGLAS O. LINDER and NANCY LEVIT (Oxford University Press, 2013?)

The Good Lawyer

About The Good Lawyer


Introductory Note

The Good Lawyer is Courageous

The Good Lawyer is Empathetic

The Good Lawyer Has a Passion for Justice

The Good Lawyer Values Others in the Legal Community

The Good Lawyer Uses Both Intuition and Deliberative Thinking

The Good Lawyer Thinks realistically About the Future

The Good Lawyer Serves the True Interests of Clients

The Good Lawyer is Persuasive

Seeking Quality


Random Facts

The Happy Lawyer

Excerpt from Chapter 8:
The Good Lawyer Has Ample Willpower

        None of the stress associated with law practice would matter so much if our supplies of willpower were unlimited, but they’re not.  Each of us starts our day with a finite supply of willpower and stress during the day constantly depletes that supply.  Willpower is almost always higher in the morning, lower at the end of the day.  Our finite willpower supply has been likened to a muscle that becomes fatigued through overuse and a gas tank being drawn down as we travel through our day.  Sybil Dunlop, a litigator in a Minnesota firm, writes that she thinks “of my willpower store like a videogame.  I imagine the little bar in my head depleting as I focus on an issue.”  At day’s end, research shows, we’re less able to make decisions and the decisions we do make tend to be poorer.  When our willpower is depleted, we look for ways to conserve energy such as avoiding or postponing decisions.  Burmeister and Tierney point to “abundant research showing that people have a hard time giving up options, even when the options aren’t doing them any good.  This reluctance to give up options becomes more pronounced when willpower is low.”  The result, researchers suggest, is that we gravitate to safe decisions such as sticking with the status quo.

        The tendency to pick safe options when willpower levels are depleted explains the results of the study of over one thousand parole decisions made by the parole board of an Israeli prison system.  Researchers compared the decisions made by the board when willpower supplies could be expected to be high, such as early in the morning or just after a snack break, to those made just before the break or late in the afternoon.  The results were striking.  Prisoners who appeared before the board early in the morning, for example, received parole 70% of the time, while those unfortunate enough to face the board late in the day received parole less than 10% of the time.  Prisoners who appeared right after a replenishing  break during which the judges ate sandwiches and fruit won parole 65% of the time, compared to prisoners who appeared just after the break and got paroled only 20% of the time.  The researchers, after exhaustively considering other possible explanations for the disparity, concluded that as mental energy levels dropped before meals and late in the day, the parole board members usually fell back to their default position, which was to deny parole.  Judging, like practicing law, is mentally stressful work.  Granting parole is, for a parole board, the riskier choice, because board members are likely to be criticized when a paroled prisoner later commits a serious crime.  The safe option is to keep a prisoner in jail for now and let him try again next time.  As willpower supplies of the board members depleted, they became biased towards the safer option: letting the prisoner linger in jail. The lesson here is if you want a favorable ruling from a judge, make sure he or she is operating on a full stomach.
         Why, you might ask, did the parole board grant more paroles after snack breaks and lunches?  The rather surprising answer is that are willpower supplies are replenished by glucose.  Willpower is not just a matter of psychology; it is equally a matter of physiology.  An impressive collection of studies make clear, as Burmeister and Tierney put it, “No glucose, no willpower.  Brain imaging shows that glucose ingestion causes dramatic shifts of activity within various regions of the brain. Unlike a computer, which ceases to function at all without a source of energy, the brain instead “stops doing some things and starts doing others.”  Low on glucose, you are, for example, more likely to lash out inappropriately at a secretary.  Impaired glucose tolerance, which leads to bad decision-making of many kinds, has even been identified in two recent studies as a substantial risk factor for criminal recidivism and juvenile delinquency....