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How to Recognize the Dunning-Kruger Effect in Your Law Practice

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 30, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Somewhere in the law school experience, students are taught to fake it until they make it.

It often carries over into law practice when they take new cases on the path to becoming competent. Professional rules explain that.

But sometimes lawyers are simply incompetent and won't face it. Are you?


Psychologists have a name for people who think they are great even when they are terrible, and it almost sounds like a law partnership. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias whereby people cannot recognize their own incompetence.

If you don't have it, maybe you know somebody in the firm who does. Here's a test:

"How Do You React to Constructive Criticism?"

It's an online quiz, and 10,000 people have taken it. Only 39 percent of them fare fairly well; they want to understand their problem and correct it.

Dewey Cheatem

Lawyers don't do that, much. Mostly, we are trained to figure out other people's problems.

Not to be armchair psychologists, but Above the Law has a theory: "We all think we're smarter and more skillful than we actually are," writes Jill Switzer.

Wait, what? All lawyers have the Dunning-Kruger Effect?!

No, like the great movie detective Harry Crumb said about incompetence, "it's just a theory."

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