A way to play games with metrics: leave out key elements of a percentage change

An announcement about the changing of the guard at the Association of Corporate Counsel mentioned that during one person’s tenure large law department memberships had increased 89 percent. Wow, impressive!

Wait! We don’t actually know whether that is impressive. The release did not state the time period or the starting number of members from large departments. It left out the definition of a “large law department,” the level of the new members, and their distribution by department. That is to say, if the expansion took place over ten years, it loses its luster. If the ACC started with 50 “large law department members” and added 45 more, that too is a less impressive story than starting with 500 and adding 450 more.

Further, if the ACC deems a “large law department” to have as few as 10 lawyers, the statement has different impact than if the term refers only to departments with more than 100 lawyers.

Continuing with the critique, if the additional members were mostly below the level of Associate General Counsel and that is stated, readers can at least gauge the level of membership gained. And, if one or two huge law departments each contributed a large chunk of the new members, the claim surrenders some of its impressiveness.

The bald statement as made, therefore, has a slipperiness that significantly reduces its intended effect.

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