Cognitive Dissonance and the Low-Cost Lawyer

This interesting Wired Magazine piece, titled Why We Love Our Dentists, explores the unique relationship between price paid and perceived value.  According to a recent study, two dentists will reach the same conclusion when looking at an identical x-ray only about half the time.  Yet despite the fact that dentists are so frequently wrong (they can't both be right, can they?), people love their dentists more than any of their other medical providers.

The reason, according to the article, is due to cognitive dissonance, "the human tendency to react to conflicting evidence by doubling-down on our initial belief."  The study's author Dan Ariely attributes our irrational love of dentists to the pain they inflict:

 

I think all of this pain actually causes cognitive dissonance and cause higher loyalty to your dentist. Because who wants to go through this pain and say, I’m not sure if I did it for the right reason. I’m not sure this is the right guy. You basically want to convince yourself that you’re doing it for the right reason.

The article has a few more examples of irrational behavior influenced by perceived value.  Consider this study:

[R]esearchers supplied people with Sobe Adrenaline Rush, an “energy” drink that was supposed to make them feel more alert and energetic. (The drink contained a potent brew of sugar and caffeine which, the bottle promised, would impart “superior functionality”). Some participants paid full price for the drinks, while others were offered a discount. The participants were then asked to solve a series of word puzzles. [T]the people who paid discounted prices consistently solved about thirty percent fewer puzzles than the people who paid full price for the drinks. The subjects were convinced that the stuff on sale was much less potent, even though all the drinks were identical.

What does this mean for lawyers?  Know that your clients hold deep-set beliefs that the value of your advice is tied (even if subconsciously) to the price they pay for it.  In other words, if you're the lawyer offering the lowest prices on your services, understand that your clients believe your advice is less valuable than the same advice offered by your higher-priced peers.

An unanswered question: do lawyers offering that low-cost advice believe they're less competent than their higher-priced peers? Just as their clients expect to get what they pay for, do lawyers expect to deliver what they charge for?  What do you think?

 

One Response to Cognitive Dissonance and the Low-Cost Lawyer
  1. Megan Oltman
    October 22, 2010 | 6:16 pm

    What a great question! I feel more responsible to deliver good value as my fee gets higher, and I have certainly noticed that clients who come in with a discount of one kind or another are crankier, more suspicious, and less trusting than the ones paying full price. A colleague of mine used to have a policy of never seeing new clients for a same-day appointment, as they tended to be (in her experience) highly demanding and unreasonable. Seems like a related concept to me.

    Megan Oltman http://www.mercerfamilymediation.com

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