A client with a problem consults a lawyer rather than, say, a psychologist, social worker, or business advisor because he believes that his problem has a signifi -cant legal dimension. But real-world problems seldom conform to the boundaries that define and divide different disciplines, and it is a rare client who wants his lawyer to confine herself strictly to “the law.” Rather, most clients expect their lawyers to integrate legal considerations with other aspects of their problem. Solutions are often constrained or facilitated by the law, but finding the best solution — that is, a solution that addresses
all of the client’s concerns — often requires more than technical legal skills. Indeed, it often turns out that no
solution is ideal in all respects, and that analyzing trade-offs is itself an important nonlegal problem-solving skill.
Reflecting this reality, an American Bar Association report on the ten “fundamental lawyering skills” that new lawyers should acquire places “problem solving” at the very top of the list — even before legal analysis. At their best, lawyers serve as society’s general problem solvers, skilled in avoiding as well as resolving disputes and in facilitating public and private ordering. They help clients approach and solve problems flexibly and economically, not restricting themselves to the decision frames that “legal thinking” tends to impose on a client’s needs. Good lawyers bring more to bear on a problem than legal knowledge and
lawyering skills. They bring creativity, common sense, practical wisdom, and that most precious of all qualities, good judgment.
Designing and implementing public policy — whether done by lawyers or people with other professional backgrounds — call for the same attributes. While counseling and litigating focus on the individual client’s interests, policy making is intrinsically oncerned with many individuals and institutions with different and often clashing interests. Understanding and accommodating competing,
even incommensurable, interests and designing policies that will change behaviors in desired ways are among the policy maker’s fundamental skills.
This chapter inquires into the nature of problem solving and decision making, both in general and more particularly in lawyers’ work with individual clients and policy makers’ work in government agencies and nonprofit organizations. To illustrate problems in both domains, we begin with some vignettes from a day in the professional life of two characters: Luis Trujillo, a partner at a midsized law firm in Orange County, California; and Christine Lamm, the director of a county environmental protection agency.