General counsel straddle the gap between Aristotelian qualities and Baconian quantities

“Everyone knows that the scientific revolution involved the replacement of an Aristotelian understanding of nature in terms of qualities by a new understanding, which prioritized quantities.” Although sadly not one of the “everyones,” I read that statement from the J. of the Historical Soc., March 2010 at 43, and it crystallized several of my thoughts.

The article traces how far the scientific world has come from Galileo’s century, when weights and time and volume were at best crude approximations, through Bacon’s turn to empiricism and increasingly precise measurements, to today’s unquestioned primacy of data and statistics. But those who manage legal departments must combine the qualitative assessments of Aristotle and quantitative tracking of Bacon.

How well an in-house lawyer serves the client simply can’t be reduced to numbers, not even sets of numbers. We do not know how to move from words to figures, from concepts to counts as it were, when we describe attributes such as practical knowledge of the law, trust and credibility, creativity and doggedness. We do know how to count many aspects of a law department’s operations and output, but the closer we get to the individual lawyer in a department, the less counting sheds light.

The business world pushes lawyers to attach numbers to what they do but the qualities associated with legal advice that is fit to purpose eludes that drive to quantify. “For we should surely still live in a world of qualities, not quantities, if accurate measures had not come to seem the most reliable of all forms of information.” With lawyers, however, we still live most importantly in a world not of quantities but of qualities.

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