Morrison on Metrics: 16 digital definitions

Examining the numerous numerical terms that legal departments use every day.

Lawyers put great stock in precision. In recognition of that, this column defines a raft of terms that apply to numbers. Not a raft, actually, but exactly 16 concepts and words.

Working from the broadest term down, let’s start with data (the plural of datum), used for individual facts or pieces of information. Information theory defines a binary digit (bit) as either 1 or 0, and strings of bits can encode or describe any data. A tiny portion of the data universe consists of numbers, “mathematical units, as in a numerical series, having precise relations with other such units.” Six patents convey an even number, and 3.14, known as pi, also is a number.

Only a tiny set of numbers are digits—whole numbers from one to nine. We record digits as figures, e.g., the symbol “3,” and digits more broadly as “an amount or value expressed in numbers.”

To determine numbers in a law department, there are various processes available. Most simply, you can count, which is to check over a group incrementally increasing by one to determine the total. A sibling of count is the term enumerate, but that mostly used for small numbers of items in lists. Or you can measure, where you ascertain the extent, dimension or quantity of something typically by comparison with a standard. The standard of months, for example, measures the elapsed duration of a case. Law departments most commonly report sums. How many non-disclosure agreements did we review last quarter, as you total them up?

Mathematics helps us work with numbers. The simplest function is addition, which gives an amount: “the sum total of two or more quantities.” For instance, when you count your filing cabinets one by one, the aggregate of two or more numbers is determined by addition. It is the result of a count or estimate in which the units are considered as individuals. Although the word statistic has a dictionary definition of “a numerical fact or datum,” the more precise use relates to mathematical processes that can organize and make statements or inferences about groups of numbers.

Whatever the process, a legal department determines values—a magnitude, quantity or number represented by a figure or symbol (e.g., “π”). The sentence, “The settlement required $10,000,” states a value for the settlement. For groups of values, we use the term quantity: “a particular, indefinite or considerable amount of anything.” It can be very specific—the quantity of waste released was 10,000 gallons; or looser—“a large quantity of backup tapes were discovered in the closet.”

Finally, buried in the fine print, an apology: It is sloppy to refer to a metric except in the context of poetic meter or the metric system (from the Greek metrikos, of or pertaining to measuring). The title of this column, Morrison on Metrics, betrays both rhyme and reason as well as my etymological ignorance.

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Rees Morrison

Rees Morrison, Esq. is the founder of General Counsel Metrics, LLC. Based in Princeton, NJ, Rees has for the past 25 years consulted solely to...

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