When I entered law school (35 years ago), the admissions test had removed the previously required math section. The reasoning for this was that lawyers, by and large, didn’t need an acumen for numbers. Maybe the admissions committee was right about most lawyers. Still, every day with our trusty HP-12c calculators in hand, Sean, Michelle and I run countless mathematical calculations involving discount rates and present value of future payment streams. Despite the numbers, it’s never the math that brings resolution. It’s the aspects of the human condition that we can never measure: empathy, compassion, patience, attention, and listening, to name a few.

This may seem basic, but we are a culture bent on metrics, if not obsessed with them. Recently, my wife and I went to one of our favorite eateries. When the waitress brought us our receipt, she asked us to go online and give her five stars (the highest mark) for her service that night. She explained this was important as her bosses wanted all of their employees to have “high five ratings.” She was an excellent waitress, and according to the restaurant’s 1-5 scale, I would have given her a 5. But having to ask for the rating so her bosses would feel she was “a good waitress” seemed to miss the point. By the numbers, it made sense, but the number had little relevance by the metrics of what really makes for a good service provider.

In his book, The Tyranny of Metrics, Jerry Muller coined the term “metric fixation” to describe our culture’s obsession with, or perhaps, addiction to, objective metrics. Muller suggests that if it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved; therefore, it is unimportant. Nothing could be further from the truth regarding helping those stuck in the legal system see options and choices they may not have previously considered. Try as we may, we can’t measure the human experience or the qualities that matter to us all: love, respect, empathy, listening, patience, non-judgment, vulnerability, authenticity, etc.

We often share with those in a mediation that while the math of your case is important, the math alone will never lead you to the choice best for you. Maybe the law school admissions committee was right about math not being essential to effective lawyering. Too bad they didn’t include a section on awareness of the human qualities so important to us all.


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