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Selection bias and cracks in what we think we know about law departments

An article by Austan Goolsbee, NY Times, Sept.14, 2006 at C3 describes a researcher’s pitfall: selection bias. If most of someone’s data comes from what surfaces on its own, the data may not be representative of the entire universe of data.

Selection bias applies to what we think we know about management of law departments. The red flag of selection bias alerts us to be careful: we should not to assume that the law department practices that come to light are necessarily representative of those practices in all law departments.

Some general counsel are drawn to publicity (See my post of June 30, 2006 on celebrity law departments.). Some champion a particular cause, be it ADR, pro bono, technology, or whatever. Some companies make news such as those in the Fortune 500 or those where bad things have taken place. All of these selection biases may (probably) distort the true picture of law department practices.

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