Morrison on Metrics: Sources of help for statistical analysis

Five places to look within your company for help gathering important statistics.

Unfamiliarity with statistics may hold back many general counsel from making more out of their available metrics. Either they do not understand some of the basic ideas of how statistical analysis can help make sense of numbers or they understand, but lack the time or staff talent to use statistics. They cannot take advantage of correlations, slope equations, multiple regression and just plain descriptive statistics.

 

Fortunately, even if the law department itself is a statistical barrens, at least five groups elsewhere in the company may grow lush statistical talent. With a little bit of sleuthing and some cajoling, a general counsel or law department administrator might be able to borrow the statistical capabilities of a staff person elsewhere in the company for periodic analyses.

The financial function would be the most logical candidate for such a person. The finance group needs to analyze numbers in copious quantities and undoubtedly they have people with MBAs and math degrees able to lend some statistical sophistication to the legal group’s efforts.

A second possible pool of talent would come from procurement. Again, this is a group of people comfortable with the analysis of numbers. Statistics fit closely with those interests. Whether the legal team wants to invite them into the tent is a different story.

Third, marketing might not be thought of as a refuge for statisticians, but with the growing importance of data mining, in some companies there may well be people in the marketing department who are adept with finding patterns in large sets of numbers. Among their tools would be statistical concepts and capabilities. Incidentally, the marketers might think more creatively than their legal colleagues about graphics and data visualization.

Another possible source might be those who work on strategic planning, particularly on potential mergers and acquisitions. When you parse and project revenue and market share and intellectual property values, sometimes you find people have aptitude with basic statistics. 

It is important to bear in mind that the statistical facility a law department needs to gain more insights from its metrics hardly raises to the level of doctorates and dissertations. Just being comfortable with standard deviations, or even medians as compared to averages, can carry a law department much further in the analysis and understanding of metrics than it would otherwise.

The final candidate in the company for statistical ability could be Human Resources. Whenever there is a layoff of much size someone must first prepare an analysis of disparate impact. To do so, they have to employ some common statistical tools. More broadly, if a company has thousands of employees, many aspects of their careers and evaluations lend themselves to statistical tools.

In short, a law department with quantitative information about outside counsel spending or settlements and judgments or the changing costs of patent protection should recognize that one of the useful tools to pry open the secrets of those numbers are statistics. Having no home-grown statistical competency, they can quite likely find elsewhere in their company someone whose job it is to understand and apply statistics.

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