Governments are the best sources of data

A column in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, July 2014 at 10, argues against House Republicans’ efforts to prevent the Department of Education from collecting and publishing data on college costs. Without good information on such matters as all-in costs of attending a school or graduation rates, prospective students will be left mostly in the dark.

The column brought to mind that when governments require data to be submitted and make it available to the public, the data is much more reliable, comprehensive, and timely than data collected by other means. Voluntary efforts lead to low compliance and selection bias; efforts by publishers or players in a market can never reach a government agency’s level of certitude; and privately collected data is, well, private. If you want data collected over time so that you can tease out trends, the problems of non-governmental data are magnified.

To my knowledge, no Federal or state government agency obtains and makes public any information about either corporate legal departments or private law firms. There is data about the legal industry sector and labor numbers (employees, gross revenue, possibly numbers of firms) but nothing else. Particularly, data is lacking about individual law firms. You can painfully extract some data from sources such as EDGAR filings or patent applications, but the collecting agencies are not focused on metrics regarding legal industry participants.

The best legal-industry analysts can obtain comes from their own efforts or the data collection of others, flawed and incomplete though they may be. Even with that somewhat pessimistic summary, I stoutly maintain that much more can be learned from legal industry data sources and analyses.

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