Morrison on Metrics: Three powers of metrics

Those who manage law departments appreciate, to varying degrees, the contributions of numbers they collect. One way to heighten that appreciation and extend the contributions is to consider numbers in three stages: What is going on in the worlds (analysis), how can we convey what we learn about what is going on (explanation) and the ways can we influence others to do what needs to be done based on quantification (rhetoric). Let's look at each of the three stages in order.

When you want to analyze mounds of data, statistics shine. The many statistical tools available to identify and clarify dispersion, variability and relationships can powerfully contribute to law department operations. To show that the number of documents collected in discovery predicts 65 percent of the external costs of a lawsuit allows you to see more clearly how to confront litigation costs. To analyze your effective billing rates by averages and medians or to show their skew toward large firms gives you insights.

Aside from their ability to analyze and sort out, metrics have explanatory power. Once you know that EEOC charges make up the bulk of your external spend on human resources, you can tell HR and finance why their charge-backs fluctuate. If you learn that four percent of your cases accounted for 84 percent of your spend last year, you can tell your panel firms about the infrequent occurrence of large cases. A budget explains your best projection of spending to be incurred. A discussion with a range of settlement scenarios relies on metrics. A description of the cost of applying for a patent in 23 countries includes figures galore. All these are metrics-based explanations.

When analysis is completed and explanation is done, sometimes you want to push others to act. Rhetoric--the arts and skills of persuasion-- sharpens with statistics and other numbers if they are deployed skillfully. Convincing arguments become unassailable if you back them up with numbers. "We need more staff, since turnover has frustrated clients-- look at this low, 2.5 satisfaction score on responsiveness, our volume of contracts prepared has increased 32 percent in 18 months, and we have three lawyers per billion of revenue while our peer group as 4.2 lawyers per billion." An argument by facts and numbers complements other rhetorical devices.

For all three purposes-- analysis to understand, explanation to convey and rhetoric to persuade--numbers and the tools to work with them encourage clear thinking. For those who appreciate evidence-based management, credible and insightful numbers make the best evidence. "We reduced total legal spend in the past 12 months by 4.5 percent" impresses far more than "we reduced costs."

Metrics are powerful. Be wary, in fact, because even the capable use of numbers, let alone sophistication can intimidate the less numerate. A comment about "our standard of deviation reduced" can fluster someone who doesn't readily understand the concept. That warning given, strive to use the numbers that surround law departments in ways that strengthen you in all three stages.

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Rees Morrison

Rees Morrison, Esq. is a partner at Altman Weil, Inc. with countless interests in legal data analytics. He is also the founder of General Counsel Metrics, LLC....

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