A study conducted at the University of California acts as testament to the argument that luck creates a sense of entitlement. The experiment involved groups of three students, who were put into rooms and given a complex moral issue to discuss. One member of each group was randomly assigned as the group’s leader and after 30 minutes each group was brought a plate of four cookies. In each case, without discussion or objection from the other participants, the leader took the extra cookie. They were ascribed the role as leader by sheer chance, but developed a subconscious sense of entitlement.
A recent book by economist Robert Frank cites the cookie experiment and argues that successful people often underestimate the element luck played in their achievements. People that believe their accomplishments are purely down to their hard work are often less sympathetic and less inclined to share their wealth, while those who acknowledge the role of luck and context are more likely to redistribute it.
And while reputation plays a considerable role in a client’s choice of legal representation, so can luck. David Drummond was working in a fairly ordinary Palo Alto law firm when two students arrived looking to set up a company. The two students were, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and unbeknownst to all of them, they would go on to create one of the world’s most ubiquitous companies – Google. A company that has kept him in very lucrative work ever since.
Though existing reputation is key in attracting clients, acknowledging the role of luck may foster a greater culture of sympathy within a firm, and have a positive for both external and internal reputation.
Maybe we all ought to recognise that it’s not just hard work that makes a successful legal professional.