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by Vault Law Editors | June 25, 2008

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Mark Twain defined a ?classic? as ?a book people praise but don?t read.? (This phenomenon?the ?book lie??is so commonplace that some French guy wrote a bestseller titled How To Talk About Books You Haven?t Read.)

Stephen Dubner at the Freakonomics blog asks:

?But why would anyone bother to lie in such a low-stakes situation?

The book lie is what you might call a lie of reputation: you are concerned with what other people think of you. Of the many reasons that people lie, I have always thought that the lie of reputation is the most interesting ? as opposed to a lie to gain advantage, to avoid trouble, to get out of an obligation, etc.?

The whole p is a fascinating look at the perils of self-reported data and tendency of people to twist the truth when they perceive their reputation is implicated: Mexican welfare recipients lie about having indoor plumbing, Australian doctors lie about washing their hands, I?ve never finished Gravity?s Rainbow, etc.

In the comments section, readers offered their own examples of ?lies of reputation.? This one particularly struck me:

?I have never met a male golfer who admits hitting the driver less than 240 yards (the official average is about 197 yards)?

Well, that would?roughly?parallel the magnitude of difference between what many respondents to our Associate Survey claim are typical annual billable hours at their firms and what the firms themselves insist are the actual, documented averages. In other words, I could say:

?I have never met a BigLaw associate who admits billing less than 2,400 hours (the firm reports an average of about 1,970 hours)?

Consequently, I am reluctant to include individual accounts of specific billable totals in firm profiles, as they are so commonly disputed?and refuted?by the firms. Nobody can claim that BigLaw associates don't work longer and harder than nearly anyone else?so why fudge the numbers? I think it?s because BigLaw associates are as human as the poor Mexicans and the unhygienic doctors. The ?hours culture? is so deeply ingrained, and so inextricably linked with one?s ?value? to the firm, that?even in an anonymous survey?people protect (and puff up) their reputations.

-posted by brian

Joan Jett: unusual in not giving a damn about her bad reputation.

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