Numeracy and Legal Decision Making

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Arden Rowell and Jessica Bregant

This Article presents an empirical study of how numeracy—or math skill—relates to legal decision making. We describe three findings. First, the study shows a surprisingly high level of math skill among law students, especially given the common folk wisdom that lawyers are bad at math. Second, although prior research in non-legal contexts has shown that people with low numeracy are particularly susceptible to cognitive bias, we detect no significant relationship between law students’ math skills and their susceptibility to bias or framing effects. Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, our findings show that the substance of legal analysis varies with math skill for at least some subset of cases. In particular, we find that law students with lower numeracy make decisions that are less consistent with negligence doctrine than students with higher numeracy.

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