The legal industry loses when legal management data stays guarded and proprietary

I am deeply invested in this topic, but I am struggling. And, this is a huge topic that deserves multiple thoughtful posts. But I will stick my toe into the water because of a piece in MIT Tech. Rev., May/June 2014 at 10.   A professor of political science and computer science at Northwestern University, David Lazer, wrote about methodological shortcomings of data analysis.

One lesson Lazer draws is that “methods and data should be more open.” Applied to the world of data that managers of lawyers would like, it means that those who collect legal management data and publish results should explain how they collected it, what pre-processing they did (meaning, how did they clean the data before they ran their analyses), and what limitations they are aware of in their methodology.

Unfortunately, those of us not in academia who arduously and expensively gather hard-to-get data do so ultimately in order to make money. Vendors, consultants, publisher and trade groups are not eleemosynary institutions. We don’t want to give away our blood, sweat and metrics, let alone expose to the critical world all the trade-offs, data messes, and tough decisions we made regarding that data. Yet, if we are not more open about our efforts, others can’t help us improve. Nor can they reuse the data for other purposes or complement the data with related metrics. Proprietary data stunts progress.

In short, while the underlying data and analytic steps on law firm revenue, numbers of law suits, law firms used, staffing, and other important management areas remain closed and largely unexplained, managers of lawyers can’t improve how they manage as rapidly.

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