“‘Tis a forgotten maxim that ‘accuracy is essential to beauty,’” wrote Emerson in his Journals. Being accurate is not something that’s typically recognized or celebrated, but over time it comes to have great value, separating those most capable. What’s a good working definition of accuracy? Webster defines accuracy as “the quality or state of being correct or precise.” Accuracy is best defined as a form of incisiveness, skillfulness. In law, in particular, because we take sides, it’s too easy to sacrifice accuracy in our quest for achieving a particular result.
Accuracy in questioning––where to begin. Before you draft your questions, you should say to yourself: “Accuracy refers to the agreement of a particular value with the true value.” That’s actually the definition of accuracy which scientists use. Questioning a radiologist in a failure to diagnose breast cancer case. Compare “Dr. what findings do you see on this film?” vs. “Dr. do you agree that this particular mass on this film is spiculated? Do you agree that spiculated densities are indicative of malignancy? Did you ever recommend to the primary care physician this particular mass to be biopsied?” Etc.
Accuracy in pleading––there’s a difference between alleging “driving too fast for conditions” and “failing to keep a proper lookout for traffic.” One implicates manner and method of operation; the other, degree of awareness. Your allegations have to match your proof, not generally, but specifically. If they do, your case appears tightly-bound, seamless; if they do not, there’s imprecision, lack of solidity. This actually is a neglected area––the simple, easily overlooked task of aligning with precision pleadings to proof.
Accuracy in case citation––it’s common to select isolated language from a case neglecting all else, but Judges know instantly the difference between the holding of a case versus a single sentence utilized to reach that holding. There’s a heft and texture to a successful argument, built on multiple reinforced strands, each correctly identified. Accurate citation to authority instills confidence, lending legitimacy to your argument. You’re not cutting corners; you’re playing it straight. A purposeful focus on getting it precisely right, not approximately right––in the long run, such a practice prevails.
Accuracy in argument––exaggeration, imprecision, inaccuracy in the service of arguing a particular side. Surely we must exaggerate––how else can we convince others of the gravity of our position? Paradoxically, exaggeration works against rather than in favor of persuasion. Reliable positions are finely-wrought, nuanced––particularized, not generalized. Exaggeration reflects a lack of seriousness, maturity, harking back to childhood’s phantasmagoria of hyperbole and amplification. We pay respect to others by being scrupulously accurate––essentially we’re saying, “We can trust you with the truth. You’re capable of understanding the intricacy of this…”
Some mistakenly believe measurement alone is enough, but often not. In business, there’s a phenomenon known as “surrogation”–– “Surrogation is a psychological phenomenon in which the measure(s) of a construct of interest evolve to replace the construct itself. Research on performance measurement in management accounting has identified surrogation as “the tendency for managers to lose sight of the strategic construct(s) the [performance] measures are intended to represent, and subsequently act as though the measures are the constructs of interest” (emphasis in original). An everyday example of surrogation is a manager tasked with increasing customer satisfaction who begins to believe that the customer satisfaction survey score actually is customer satisfaction.”
“Accuracy is, in every case, advantageous to beauty, and just reasoning to delicate sentiment. In vain would we exalt the one by depreciating the other.” ––David Hume. Chemists, physicists, mathematicians––for them, accuracy becomes a habit that’s instinctual, reflexive. Reliable formulas balance; correct equations equalize. The same, to the extent possible, should occur in a lawsuit. Advocacy and accuracy work in congruence, not at cross purposes. Before you exaggerate, simply pause and examine carefully––you’ll find all you need is already there.