There are few things that lawyers love more than telling war stories. Partially, that’s because many lawyers either only or primarily have friends who are lawyers, and war stories are a way for lawyers to relate to each other—your barber doesn’t understand the pain of reading through 5 paragraphs of irrelevant objections posed to each of 75 interrogatories, but your fellow lawyers will. One common feature of war stories is a note regarding how much was at issue in the case. “I was handling this $25 million claim once….” Lawyers include the dollar figure in dispute as a shorthand for the complexity of the case they’re talking about. “Oh, we’ll be in depositions for a month solid, this is a $10 million case!”
I don’t know where I picked up this habit, but I know exactly how I learned to rethink it. A friend of mine, as in-house counsel, was handling a case worth over a billion dollars. When he told me about it, my jaw dropped. One of the first things I asked him was, how do you manage a case that big? And he told me about the several law firms he had engaged, all the people working on it. But then he said: it’s not really a complicated case. There were only 4-5 real factual questions, and a similar number of legal ones. It’s just that every factual question had a very high price tag associated with it. The high price tag doesn’t make the factual question any more complex, or any harder to litigate. For example, your builders’ risk policy either has coverage for flood damage or it doesn’t. If it does, then it doesn’t matter whether the flood washed the whole building away or just some materials from the laydown area—coverage is coverage, irrespective of quantum.