Help With The Hard Stuff: ‘The Goldilocks Principle’


Part 7 (of 10)“The Goldilocks Principle”

I ended my last column, promising that we’ll next consider some of the specific problems clients can have with selecting their attorney and the approach to solving their legal problem.

After this column, we’ll explore some of the newer experiments and alternatives that exist and are evolving in the provisioning of legal services.

We all know the story a lost, hungry, tired little girl finds herself lost in the forest and stumbles upon a house whose inhabitants are absent. In the house she finds three chairs, three bowls of porridge, and three beds,of varying size, temperature and comfort, and in her effort to recover from her ordeal of being lost she in the end finds one of each that is just right (the others are too big or small, too hot or cold, and too hard or too soft.)

According to Wikipedia:

In cognitive science and developmental psychology, the Goldilocks effect or principle refers to infants’ preference to attend to events which are neither too simple or too complex according to their current representation of the world.[3] This effect was observed in infants, who are less likely to look away from a visual sequence when the current event is moderately probable, as measured by an idealized learning model.

The principle is used in other areas of science and every-day life.

I think it’s really hard for clients when they need to find and work with a lawyer. For many, it is a crisis that establishes the need, such as a divorce (as contrasted with a transactional matter such using an attorney to write a will or trust.) The client in that situation is not thinking at her best and truly at times might be thinking at her worst in the inevitable fear, loss and stress. Clients in such turmoil then approach a lawyer not knowing what the range of options is; not knowing whether or what they can question or challenge; and not understanding some of significance of the words used and processes discussed. They can end up with too little assistance from their attorney, and they can end up with too much assistance from their attorney.

How much is just right?

Dan and Chip Heath’s book Made to Stick points out that most experts tend to forget just how hard they had to work to learn what now easily comes out of their mouths as jargon to the lay person’s ears. They can’t imagine what it is to not know what they know. Lawyers are such experts.  It’s easy for them to not understand how overwhelmingly complex and stressful the legal problem in real life is for the client, and that the client possibly does not understand them fully. Attorneys know they need their clients’ “informed consent.” But what makes a client’s consent “informed’? As a realist, I want the clients’ considerations to include the following questions: what is the value of the legal services to the client, and is the client well-enough served for the resources (of time, money and energy) available to the client? I think few clients can afford all the legal services that can be had, and I also think some clients may need more legal services than they think or know they need.

I work mainly in family law, and in consumer bankruptcy – two areas where clients’ lives are tremendously stressed and tumultuous. I see a great discrepancy in the quality and quantity of legal services that individuals get for various reasons, including based on their relative socioeconomic status. To me, the access to justice discrepancy is inevitable because legal services are hard to understand, and expensive, and, consequently, resources can too easily be spent (and even exhausted) on issues that are not the client’s highest priorities. This is not necessarily the lawyer’s fault, by the way.

In the next two columns, we’ll explore some of the older and newest experiments and alternatives to a conventional law practice that exist and are evolving in the provisioning of legal services.

Here’s the link to #1, Legal Process is All about Negotiation

Here’s the link to #2, Lawyers are Human, Too

Here’s the link to #3, Lawyers Can Be Quite Versatile

Here’s the link to #4, Best of all Prevent

Here’s the link to #5, Resolve if Possible

Here’s the link to #6, Contain if Necessary

Editor’s note: Look for “Help with the Hard Stuff” every second and fourth Thursday of the month in the Los Alamos Daily Post.

Gini Nelson, JD, MA has been practicing law since 1983. She’s a member of the State Bar of New Mexico’s Law Practice Management Committee, and the State of New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court’s Access to Justice Committee. Views expressed in the column are hers and not necessarily those of these Committees. This column is providing public information through the auspices of the Los Alamos Daily Post at www.ladailypost.comand is not providing legal advice. Nothing in this column is intended to be an advertisement or solicitation of business. Ms. Nelson’s law office website is at If you have questions that might be of general interest if answered in this column, please send them to ©2013 Gini Nelson Law Office

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