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Further commentary on my conclusion that a headline lacks quantitative reliability

I wrote on July 13th about a conclusion expressed in a headline regarding a recent conference. Based solely on the numbers stated in the post-conference press release, dated June 30, 2008, I questioned whether it was credible to create the headline: “Global Growth Drives Agenda of In-House Lawyers in Top Companies.” Perhaps that headline was editorial license, more to catch the reader’s eye than to be taken literally, but I interpreted it to mean that global legal issues, brought about by the international growth of companies, were a pre-eminent, if not the most important, cause of legal work for law departments of major global corporations.

I drew on data in the press release to speculate. Specifically, I wondered in the post whether, as claimed by the release, the headline is true and whether it could reliably be reported as the views of “top in-house counsel in large global companies.”

Leigh Dance, a consultant who helped with the conference, entitled “Wake Up to the Future: How Corporate Legal Services Must Change”, emailed me shortly after I published my post to tell me that she was “really disappointed” by my commentary. She felt I did not do justice to the conference and did not do sufficient research regarding the data before I blogged. I had not given “the benefit of the doubt to the Association of Corporate Counsel or Eversheds or Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, the three respected organizations that produced the conference and were involved in the polling process.” Dance also sent a note regarding her view to two general counsel whom I know and a third general counsel, all of whom took part in the conference.

I cannot comment, and did not comment, on anything said during the conference. I can, I emphasize, draw conclusions from what the press release discloses about the attendees. Since Dance sent me the list of conference attendees by job title and company name, I can verify from the roster that approximately 95 of them have job titles that indicate they are in-house counsel. Further, 30 of those lawyers bear the title General Counsel, which means that two-thirds of the in-house counsel who attended are below the level of general counsel. (Of the General Counsel, several appear to be regional or divisional general counsel, not the company’s top legal officer.) They may not be “junior,” I concede, but I believe it was reasonable of me to conclude that they are not in the general counsel position. Therefore two-thirds of the survey respondents are less able than the general counsel to see the entire gamut of legal services needed by their client and to give a reliable opinion that global growth drives the agenda of their law departments. I said as much in my original post and no more but that fact influenced my speculations.

Whether the companies are large global enterprises I could not tell from the press release, but I felt it within reason to generalize that companies with less than $1 billion in revenue are not big players in the global market. The press release allows you to figure out that 30 percent of the companies whose lawyers responded were of that size or smaller.

I certainly note big companies who do business around the world. Even so, several companies appear to me from their name alone to be tiny and local. Without benefit of the names of specific companies, what I questioned in my original post was whether the opinions of lawyers from relatively small companies – at least from a global corporate perspective – can be persuasive about “global growth” and “top companies.”

Additionally, I now know that the attendees included more than one lawyer from four companies. I mention this new fact because those lawyers may to some extent share a similar view of the world’s global legal issues that press on their client corporations. The headline conclusion is to that extent less representative

My final point in the original blog was that if it were the case that general counsel from smallish companies gave their views along with below-general-counsel lawyers from larger companies, it would be even harder to credit the headline conclusion. I have not cross matched titles to size of company, but of the general counsel, 11 are or might be at recognizably large companies that do a significant amount of business outside their base country.

My purpose in writing was not to discount the importance of global legal issues to law departments; they are important. Nor was my point to discredit the conference or those involved with it. My point was to extract the numbers published about the attendees and their clients, apply some mathematics and common sense, and speculate whether the headline statement has justification. Globalization challenges are but one of a bevy of challenges general counsel face.

Having now been privileged to look at the attendance roster, I repeat that the headline states a conclusion that has shaky support based on the seniority, numbers, and global perspective of the attendees at the conference (See my posts of Sept. 3, 2006: survey respondents dislike admitting they have no knowledge of a topic so they go ahead and give an answer; Aug. 5, 2007: examples of sponsor bias in surveys; and Nov. 21, 2005: focusing illusion, which pushes respondents to express opinions more extreme than they would otherwise hold.).