Introduction to “descriptive metrics” that quantify key characteristics of a law department

Someday we will be able to describe with numbers most of the primary characteristics of any law department. Such “descriptive metrics” are numbers that convey something about how a law department operates. For example, concentration of spending on law firms: 75 percent of all spend in a year went to 10 percent of the firms paid. If many law departments use the same cutoff (75%), then we will all have a standard descriptive metric to describe one operating characteristic of all law departments. Another is the average years of a department’s lawyers since graduation from law school.

Benchmarks are descriptive metrics, but I believe there are many, many more. As with XML coding, we need standard ways to define and calculate descriptive metrics. Accordingly, this post begins a series of six posts that explore law department descriptive metrics.

Once descriptive metrics are defined and generally accepted, the next step will be to benchmark them. The final step will be to study the correlations of descriptive metrics with practices and performance indicators (See my post of Feb. 12, 2008: surveys ought to correlate metrics with practices.).

Alarmists should not jump to the conclusion that I believe all or even most of what law departments do can reduce to digital description. Much of what happens in law departments evades quantification, such as creativity, judgment, and desk-side manner. Other aspects, however, we can describe with mathematical tools in the form of descriptive metrics.

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