6 Cognitive Biases That Can Potentially Wreck Your Case

A lawyer is not only a handler of some papers in a case file. A lawyer is an adviser, a smooth observer of things, and most of all – a psychologist. A lawyer must understand that even the mind of a judge or a client can sometimes be prone to errors that could be fatal to the client’s case.

Since you shouldn’t take the “tabula rasa” premise for granted, it is best that you acknowledge the cognitive biases that affect your judgment, and also the ones that influence your clients.


Here are the six cognitive biases that could form a person’s blindspot.

1. A Faulty Memory Formation

Often, memories turn out to be pretty inaccurate, although people are very sure that they got all the facts straight.Almost no one can remember a memory with great details, but people have unlimited trust in their cognitive capacities.

This cognitive bias is best observed in witness identifications. According to the Innocence Project, 70% of wrongful convictions happen because of misidentification.

To surpass this kind of bias in a client, you must question your witness very carefully and thoroughly.

2. Anchoring

When presented with something new (a new piece of evidence, for example), people tend to make comparisons. They rely on the first piece of information and don’t give enough attention to the subsequent one. Regarding clients, this translates into damages to awards and settlement negotiations aspects.

In one study, people who evaluated hypothetical settlement offers would choose a $12,000 offer if it came after a really low one, rather than if it came after one close to the second offer. This is a very good example of a settlement working like an anchor, dominating the course of the final judgement.

3. The Halo Effect

Perhaps one of the most spectacular cognitive bias, this is a card often played by lawyers in their benefit. Lawyers use the physical appearance of their clients and the impression they make to influence the way the jury perceives their character.

Lawyers often use this cognitive bias to make their clients more likable. Many think that having a likable client is one of the biggest assets one can have in a case. This is the reason, among lawyers, the anchoring bias is also known as “the physical attractiveness stereotype” or the “what is beautiful is good” principle.

4. Confirmation Bias

A confirmation bias occurs when a person unconsciously looks for the opinions or ideas that confirm their pre-existing views. In this process, they dismiss other points of view – again, without being aware of this error.

In other words, only the information that confirms your opinion will be acknowledged and remembered. A judge, for example, could use some coincidental factors from the case to explain certain incidents.

Although confirmation bias can be a significant thinking error, you can use it to justify any bad or inappropriate behavior.

5. The Loss Aversion

As it turns out, people hate losing. In fact, they hate losing so much that they are willing to work extra hard to avoid losing things they never wanted in the first place. For some reasons, in a person’s eye, losing is far more worse than winning. In other words, someone who wins third place in a contest will feel more satisfaction than the winner of the second place.

The same is available for legal-related issues. A client losing $9,000 will feel far worse than a person winning $9,000.

6. Omission Bias

Rather similar to the one above, this represents a tendency to evaluate harmful actions as being worse than equally harmful inactions. The explanation is simple – the actions are more obvious than the inactions. It is also a strong indicator of the fact that one would rather not act than act if the consequences are not very clear, even though not acting might prove to be worse regarding expected consequences.

It’s no secret that the human mind is deeply subjected to biases.All in all, it is preferable to be aware of the existence of cognitive biases like the ones above, since judicial decision and the judgement of individuals are liable to losses in rationality.

Countless factors, such as a person’s appearance, background or charm can influence the way people evaluate certain situations. It is in your case’s best interest to be prepared.

What do you do to stay away from cognitive biases? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.