With its acquisition by Access Group, Bloomington-based Lawyer Metrics will be positioned to apply its data analysis expertise, and possibly increase its role, in helping legal education and the profession as a whole navigate ongoing changes.
Access Group, a nonprofit membership organization comprising nearly 200 state-affiliated law schools, announced the acquisition of the startup’s assets Dec. 18. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Christopher Chapman, president and CEO of Access Group, said the data analysis that Lawyer Metrics has been doing will complement the nonprofit’s work in its Center for Research and Policy Analysis. The Bloomington company will give the center additional resources in doing research on legal education.
Lawyer Metrics is equally excited about the new partnership. It sees an opportunity in affiliating with Access Group, which has financial resources and a strong reputation within the legal education community. Not only will the acquisition give Lawyer Metrics access to greater amounts of data, it also will enable it to engage in longer-term projects and put some of its findings in the public domain.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor William Henderson along with Christopher Zorn, Pennsylvania State University professor of political science, and Caren Ulrich Stacy, now CEO of Diversity Lab in Colorado, founded Lawyer Metrics in 2010. The company employs statisticians, institutional/organizational psychologists and attorneys to study the legal profession and solve business problems using and applying data.
To Henderson, the acquisition is vindication. Since it began, Lawyer Metrics has been plopping numbers into spreadsheets and analyzing the results to help clients (including law firms and law schools) make better decisions and offer better advice. The sale of its assets to Access Groups provides assurance the company has not been wasting its time.
Working in legal education is somewhat of a homecoming for Lawyer Metrics. The founders had considered making their company part of IU Maurer but ultimately decided to stay separate because of concerns about being able to adhere to university research guidelines and still keep proprietary data from clients private.
Funding for the startup came from private investors, some of whom were alumni of IU Maurer. Although they are under no obligation, Henderson said the intent was that the investors would donate any profit realized from Lawyer Metrics to the law school.
IU Maurer Dean Austen Parrish noted Lawyer Metrics is unique in that law school faculty typically do not turn their research area into a business. However, the innovative work that the company is doing will fit nicely with Access Group, he said, and will provide law school deans with the data they want.
When counseling Lawyer Metrics clients, Henderson advises them to start with data. Big data is the buzzword but lawyers should first understand data before moving forward.
Data, Henderson said, can see things ordinary humans miss.
His own interest in data and the legal profession as a business can be traced to his studies at the University of Chicago Law School. There he was surprised at how little his classmates knew about their future employers. They tended to make their decisions using just the information that was readily available.
After arriving at IU Maurer in 2003, he turned his attention to the business of law firms. He researched, published in academic journals, and developed a course, The Legal Profession, all related to the topic.
Henderson then wanted to trot out his analysis to the practicing bar to get its reaction. In 2008, he began talking to lawyers and soon started thinking about forming a company to help law firms make decisions.
Lawyer Metrics initially focused on helping firms with talent management. For its clients, the startup would compile and analyze data to determine which associate or lateral partner hire would best fit with the firm and be a successful lawyer.
The company has since expanded into doing analysis for law schools and corporate legal departments to help these clients solve problems and improve their competitive profile. All of the work is tied to data. Henderson said attorneys tend to make decisions based on instinct and experience. They are uncomfortable and reluctant to rely on an algorithm even though it almost always illuminates the better way to proceed.
As an example of what data can see, Henderson talked about a law firm that may have a strong labor and employment practice group. However, quantitative analysis shows within that practice area, the group has the most expertise in manufacturing and more specifically supply chain issues. With that awareness, the firm can better target its business development and marketing efforts.
At the nexus
The upheaval in the legal profession brought on by the economic recession and rise of technology has created a disconnect between legal education and the practicing bar. Law schools are seen as not teaching their students the skills firms need.
Henderson said that gap was too big for Lawyer Metrics to bridge on its own, but Zorn sees the partnership with Access Group providing an opportunity to get the two sides talking. In particular, Access Group is at the “nexus between legal education, law firms and in-house counsel,” Zorn said.
While all industries are undergoing painful changes, Zorn sees the legal profession having to endure some unique pain. The pressure is coming from the demand and supply sides, which has created the disruption between lawyers and professors.
On the demand side, the Great Recession hit law firms harder than previous recessions have, said Zorn, who is also an affiliate faculty member at Penn State Law School. Lawyers are responding to corporate clients who are now more careful about spending money on legal services.
On the supply side, law schools are pushed internally to be more like the rest of the universities with which they are affiliated, Zorn continued. The traditional academic focus on teaching and publishing has value but is not producing the kind of attorneys law firms want. Law schools are trying to figure out how to become more academic and still graduate students who meet the demands of the market.
Chapman believes Lawyer Metrics can help Access Group connect its work in legal education to law firms. The Bloomington group’s collecting and analyzing of data will serve a key part in enabling Access Group’s introduction to the practicing bar.
Access Group, described as a neutral voice in legal education, has always had ties to the classroom although its role has changed over the years.
The nonprofit began in 1983 as part of the Law School Admissions Council. In the early days, it ran a loan program to help graduate students, primarily law students, access higher education. The nonprofit spun off as a separate entity in 1993 and eventually turned its attention from lending to research.
According to Chapman, Access Group is geared toward developing research and information based on data and facts. Its goal is to help law schools do their jobs better and help students see the value of a law degree.•