Survey Metrics From Law Departments – “Challenging” Areas of Law (Kirkpatrick & Lockhart 2004)

I like metrics, I always use them in consulting projects, I gather them in benchmark studies, and I published two editions of a book on them – BUT whenever I see a set of law department metrics, I can’t help critiquing them.

K&L in 2004 conducted a survey, some of the results of which Maryann Jones Thomson reproduced in the October issue of California Lawyer.  The chart title, “Area of Law Anticipated to Be Most Challenging” headed five double bars, showing 2002 and 2003 results for each of “Employment issues,” “Compliance legislation/regulatory compliance,” Litigation,” “IP/patent litigation,” and “Corporate governance legislation.”  In 2003, Employment issues led with 26%; the other four areas of law each had 10 or 12%.  I take it that 26% of the respondents, therefore, chose Employment issues as their likely greatest challenge.

The article didn’t answer my first question: how many law departments participated, how they were selected, and what level of lawyer responded.  I suspect the original report answered at least the first two threshold determinants of the metrics’ usefulness.  I also would like to confirm that the respondents were given a list of choices (not open text response), and that the five in the chart – accounting for 70% in total – were the most commonly chosen.  Any multiple-choice question depends heavily on the completeness, mutual exclusivity, and clarity of the choice. As to completeness, one would suppose that privacy concerns, international trade, technology transfer, and environmental issues could have been on the choice list.  Mutual exclusivity makes me wonder about both “patent litigation” and “Litigation” in the same list; how did respondents treat that?  As to clarity, the term “challenging” could mean sheer volume of work, or complexity of work, or political and business pressures applied, or otherwise.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood.  Law department managers urgently need data to help guide their decisions.  I commend K&L for collecting these and the journalist for publishing them.  Completely.  Even so, we all should think through the legitimacy of any benchmark metrics.

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