The fallacy of the cost/benefit paradigm

The exalted cost/benefit analysis is a specious proposition.

You cannot predict with (any) precision:

  • The outcome of the case;
  • The costs;
  • The actual benefit to the client.

Client: how much will the case cost, and how much will I win?

Lawyer: who knows (the truth).

Dispute resolution is a lottery.

Or as one client described it: “It’s like playing Russian Roulette”.

I would like to propose a new standard.

It’s called:


I would never offer this insight lightly to clients, but, if asked, I would invariably say that if it was my money, I wouldn’t be spending it on lawyers.

Stop talking about cost/benefit without properly understanding the paradigm. In a commercial context it is much easier to see things in monochrome, but with private clients very few of them are arguing over just the money. Understand this ethereal dimension and you might just find a way of building lifetime clients instead of one closed transaction after another. You have to know your client really well before many will let you into their darkest places.

Drop the pretence just once in a while. Yes you have to remain sufficiently disinterested so that you are not so close to the case that you miss the lacuna in the evidence or the law, but don’t stand too far back and expect your clients to listen to you.

They want you to feel that you are in it with them. If all they see is you racking up costs then they will see the benefit shaping up nicely in your favour and not theirs.

Don’t tell me that you don’t look at each file for its billing activity but what does that really breed? Me first behaviour and any cost/benefit discussion is totally skewed in your favour.

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