Once the final t is crossed on the settlement paperwork, I will write more about the lawsuit I’ve been going through – the back story (not intended as a pun, though it could be), my experiences, etc.
But for now I wanted to return to the topic of decision making, as the lawsuit has provided an ample proving ground for testing my own decision strategies.
In an earlier post, I wrote about your gut and some of the ideas surrounding the decisions we as humans make purely from an intuitive sense, if you want to call it that. In fact, Dan and I have been discussing thought processes recently, and he offered this interesting article on Dual Process Thinking.
The article discusses two “systems” of thinking; two processes or approaches, to making decisions. “System 1” as its described are thought processes “heavily influenced by context, biology and past experience, aid humans in mapping and assimilating newly acquired stimuli into preexisting knowledge structures, and are self-evidently valid (experience alone is enough for belief)”). “System 1” is referred to as an “experiential thinking style.” Essentially what I’ve been referring to as “intuition” or a sort of internal meta-analysis of all sorts of inputs. “System 2” is more of a willful analysis that “requires justification via logic and evidence”, and called a “rational thinking style” (Kaufman & Singer).
The article goes on to discuss the use of each thinking system, how creativity is fostered via interplay between them, and how the research seems to support the idea that to be effective, one must switch between each of these systems as the situation/context warrants.
This makes sense.
In the context of a lawsuit, should you ever find yourself in one, you will need to make many decisions. In fact, I could write an entire series of posts purely dedicated to the litany of decisions I’ve been required to make in the last 2.5 years since the lawsuit began. But for now, I’ll start at the beginning with perhaps the first, and most obvious decision: whether to file suit and hire a lawyer in the first place.
The situation which precipitated my lawsuit occurred in Manhattan, and specifically was related to a vehicle accident. At the time (2009), personal injury attorneys were willing to meet with you simply to review your circumstances and provide an initial assessment, as well as their fee structure, should you decide to hire them.
This seems straightforward, right? You’ve been wronged in some way, you (assuming you’re not a lawyer, as I am not) are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the legal system where you live (or where your situation occurred), and you want to hire someone with the expertise you lack to help you sort things out.
Well here’s the rub…
– I spent a few days in the hospital; my life had turned upside-down on a second’s notice and physically, emotionally, mentally I felt completely off kilter and out of my element – I was in a lot of pain, stressed, and exhausted
– While in the hospital, I’d had countless visits from social workers, one from a policeman, and others, who were telling me there were things I needed to take care of immediately (e.g., filing an accident report, submitting forms for insurance claims, potentially starting a lawsuit), when my mind was trying to focus on something other than the excruciating pain and whether I’d be able to walk again
– At the time, I truthfully did not know what had actually happened to me on the street that day (I was struck from behind), I just knew it involved a car or two
– I had lived in NYC for a little over a year and did not know the state laws or processes regarding vehicle accidents
– I had no prior experience with attorneys of any kind, or lawsuits, or personal injury situations
To try to make any kind of decision, but especially to choose a personal injury attorney, under those circumstances is challenging to say the least.
So, what did I do?
The very first response was panic. I was still reeling from the accident itself, and well, intense physical pain can blur out many a mental process/function.
Then, I took some time to consider whether I wanted to hire a lawyer in the first place. Although I didn’t know the details of the accident itself at the time, I knew it was an accident. Unless I’d made a vicious enemy overnight (I hadn’t), or I’d become part of a complex series of events linking me to an underground web of sought after influential business people, spies, ninjas or otherwise (I hadn’t), I felt safe in assuming that the driver (or drivers, as I found out), did not willfully hit me. As the name implies, it was purely an accident, a mistake. I thought about how it might feel to be the driver- to know that the person I hit had spent time in the hospital, and was seriously hurt. I imagined that neither of us really wanted to experience an accident or a lawsuit.
My friends and family said, “of course you’ll file a lawsuit,” and “maybe it was an accident but these are the consequences; these things happen.” The medical bills began to surface from the hospital, and I’d already experienced complications procuring a specially fitted orthopedic brace, so I knew the financial burden of the situation was far from resolved. I was also in the middle of finishing my Masters degree and I wasn’t sure how that would be taken care of. I can’t quite remember the exact moment when I decided to pursue the lawsuit, but I know I weighed the financial costs, I worried about my health, and I decided that even if hitting me was an accident, that it happened nonetheless, and I needed help. A lawsuit seemed a reasonable option, because my circumstances warranted resources, and the system was set up to provide them via the legal channels.
Once I decided to pursue a lawsuit, (note: we’re at about day 6 or so after the date of the accident itself), I looked for advice.
Neither of my parents (who were living on the West Coast), nor any of my friends or colleagues in the area, had any experience with personal injury attorneys in NYC. My Dad did some Internet research to try and find law firms to contact, but every website had similar testimonials and case results – every lawyer was “well qualified” and “on my side.”
But how would I know which attorney would represent me the way I wanted to be represented? How would I know whether my lawyer was in fact competent? How would I know whether I was making the “right” choice?
To be honest, I did not know. I had no clue.
But a lawyer from a law firm we contacted offered to come to my apartment and discuss my situation. He was young (under 35), eager, and curious. From a supine position in my back brace on my twin bed in the tiny room of a 3rd floor walk up in Harlem, I described to him what I’d experienced in the last week and my current status. He, perched on the edge of my swivel desk chair in a suit with a manicured appearance and padfolio balanced on one knee, listened, asked me questions, and described the retainer agreement he and his firm could offer.
In that collection of moments, I felt like I had been blindfolded, set on a treadmill operating at a random speed, and handed scissors with the point turned inward inches from my chest. I had no idea what I was doing, no concept of what would happen next, and a very limited body of knowledge on which to base decisions on.
But I knew I needed to decide as quickly as possible, and I knew I couldn’t face the legal system on my own.
So I agreed to hire the lawyer and his firm. I signed the agreement, he left my apartment, and soon after I received semi-regular calls from his office, and emails, asking for receipts, hospital bills, paperwork, status updates, etc.
Initially, I felt relieved. Someone more qualified than I could take care of all the little details that I didn’t know how to handle, and also really could not take care of due to my physical limitations. I could finally focus on my recovery and rearranging my life. From that point onward my situation/circumstance/life event became a case, a suit.
Well, fast forward to a year later, and I ultimately ended up switching law firms for a variety of reasons, (with the main one being that my initial attorney and I did not appear to agree on the most important attributes of my case – philosophical differences, if you will). But when I made the decision to switch counsel (which could be another post on its own), I then had a year of experience under my belt (and a strong sense of intuition).
But the point being – in order to determine whether to begin a lawsuit and whether to hire an attorney, I had to make a decision (technically, many smaller decisions) based on an amalgamation of information from a variety of sources. In this particular example, I had to rely on System 1. I did not have the facility or ability to attend law school, become well versed in personal injury law and figure out the best law firms serving the City. It wasn’t possible for me to apply System 2, I just did not have a sufficient logical backing nor evidence, to really indicate my decision was sound. I just had to go for what felt right at the time in an attempt to satisfy my goals (start a lawsuit, get someone to file the necessary claims and paperwork, etc.).
Now granted, I did end up switching attorneys after a year (at which time I employed both System 1 and System 2). So while that may seem as though my initial System 1 approach failed, I would say that System 1 carried me forward for as long as it could until I had updated information and the need for a new decision arose. Plus, the initial lawyer did accomplish all the immediate tasks, such as filing all the necessary paperwork with the police department, the courts, the insurance companies and the hospitals/doctors, and began the negotiation process with the defendants. He essentially laid the groundwork for the second attorney, and my experiences over that first year helped me refine my judgment and decision making going forward.
As the Kaufman & Singer article describes, System 1 can often get a bad rep. Societally (perhaps culturally, in some contexts?) we value evidenciary based action and behavior – we want a President that chooses a new policy based on facts; we want our investments to be put towards companies with stable financials proven over time; we want to buy a new house based on the factors contributing to a rise in property value overtime – and we should, but as the article states, sometimes System 1 is just better suited to the job, or furthermore, can work with System 2 to make sure we’re considering all possible inputs.
So if you’re at the crossroads of a big decision, something potentially life altering or significant to your future, maybe you’ll have the resources to employ System 2, and System 2 will be the better strategy. Or maybe you’ll use System 1, or maybe both. But hopefully you’ll choose wisely and have the flexibility (and possibly courage?) to experiment with different thought processes in order to make the best decision for you.
Thanks for reading, S