The Impact of Legal Team Size on Third Party Perceptions


We examine whether the number of lawyers representing a defendant impacts third parties’ moral judgments and recommended punishments for similar offenses. Specifically, we use an experimental survey with a between-subjects design to examine third parties’ perceptions regarding the seriousness of fraud and tax evasion offenses and the punishments they deem appropriate for these offenses. Our benchmark analysis suggests that subjects’ perceived severity and seriousness of both offenses are significantly increasing in the number of lawyers representing the defendant. These results could be driven both by a direct impact of legal representation on third parties’ perceptions and preferences for punishment, or by third parties updating their beliefs regarding the seriousness of these offenses based on the defendant’s legal expenditures. To investigate whether the latter mechanism may be driving results, we conduct a second experimental survey wherein subjects are informed that the number of lawyers has been randomly determined. This causes the significant relationship between the perceived seriousness of the offense and the number of lawyers to vanish. However, for fraud offenses, increasing the number of lawyers from one to more lawyers increases third parties’ recommended sanctions, which is consistent with a psychological phenomenon of ‘luck envy’.