Systemic bias in surveys of law departments

US general counsel deserve some sympathy for being bombarded with surveys.  Recently, a vendor, Serengeti, mailed a questionnaire to 6,600 ACC members, with at least one questionnaire to each law department that had an ACC member.  In addition, ACC e-mailed the questionnaire to its list of in-house counsel, so presumably many members received two invitations to participate. 

From that barrage, 239 members sent back completed questionnaires (about 75% were general counsel).  The participation rate? A mere 3.6 percent of the mailed group, and a lower rate if you were to add in the e-mailed invitees.

Very low participation rates raise two methodological concerns.  The first worries that your respondent population might not be representative of the much larger pool.  Statistics can quell that doubt.  The second point, which seems similar but has a twist, frets that those relatively few who chose to complete the questionnaire might be more interested in management issues and might, therefore, manage somewhat better.

The benchmark results might be systemically skewed toward better figures, such as total spending as a percentage of revenue, because the fit departments, so to speak, replied, and the couch potatoes, who do not embrace management of lawyers, tossed the questionnaire.

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