Cognitive bias in law firm crisis management: Why smart people make bad decisions

April 18, 2019

In a Law Firm Management column for the New York Law Journal, Infinite Global’s Peter Barrett and Jamie Diaferia present a small snapshot of how a host of cognitive biases work to undermine crisis strategy and leadership.¬†Law firms globally would be advised to dig deeper and consider what more they can do to counter such pernicious and pervasive risks.

For law firms navigating complex stakeholder environments and an ever-evolving risk landscape, effective decision-making in crisis situations is essential to ensuring long-term reputational and commercial success.

Yet too often law firm leadership is left flat-footed when crises emerge. Recent history is littered with examples of firms that have failed to predict, mishandled or exacerbated crisis scenarios by making the wrong decisions when it mattered most.

But why? Why do organizations fail to prepare effectively for high-risk scenarios? Why do experienced leaders make errors of judgment under stressed conditions? Why do seemingly thoughtful crisis management and communication plans collapse under the first live fire of public scrutiny?

There is no single answer to these questions; every crisis is different, every decision unique. However, one critical factor is often overlooked in law firm crisis management and communications strategy: the wide range of cognitive, emotional and social group biases working at a behavioral level to undermine our capacity for intelligent decision-making, not least when experiencing the heightened uncertainty and stress of crisis situations.

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