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Three quotes about metrics and a short riff thereon

Everyone has heard Benjamin Disraeli’s acidic quip, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” He was 30 percent wrong. A few might even have smiled at Mark Twain’s “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Ponzi schemes, perhaps? Many have heard variations on Lord Kelvin’s dictum that “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Although an advocate of quantification, his exaggeration does not help the cause of quantification; perhaps he should have stuck to thermometers.

Slanders and snide remarks about measuring what in-house counsel do come easily to many. I find them misguided because I believe in and write about lawyers and management statistics about 74 percent of the time.

More seriously, if notable management abilities in legal departments were an inherent gift of just a few lawyers, one that others can only admire but not learn, then metrics could barely poke their head out of the foxhole. But if as I firmly hold quantitative analysis buttresses managerial decisions, if metrics weight the scales of action toward effectiveness, if figures not only don’t lie but help improve the lie (to use a golfer’s phrase), and if anyone can gain command over the tools and techniques of statistics, then these sound-byte quotes are wrongheaded and managers should use numbers.

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