Sexing the Law Firms

The Am Law Daily recently had the following lede:  “Can Bill Henderson, the one-man idea factory and Indiana law professor, do for the study of law firms what Indiana’s most famous academic, Alfred Kinsey, did for the study of sex?”

Per Am Law, Henderson and others have started Lawyer Metrics which, according to their website, will  “design and build evidence-based systems to select, develop and retain world-class lawyers and counselors.”

No beef there.  The part I didn’t understand was Am Law’s analogy to Kinsey.  At first I thought it was a typo:  They must have meant McKinsey, the management consulting gurus who brought you Enron.   But no.   That’s really a reference to the man who, according to Wiki,

Kinsey's lawyers, in lust

is generally regarded as the father of sexology, the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey’s study of the variations in mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were.

Now that’s evidence-based for you.

This leads to two questions.  First, is Henderson’s goal viable?  His work is great, so I have no doubt that if it can be done, he can do it.  But if, as my friend Claire Hill points out, career development in large law firms is as  much about social skills and judgment as technical acumen, what is the formula going to look like?  According to Am Law, Henderson is starting with expressed preferences of lawyers at large firms.   But is that really what matters?  Is it, instead, about dollars, wins, losses, closings or something else entirely?  Is the dependent variable simply “partner,” against which we regress everything we can think of (e.g., LSAT, GPA, law school, etc)?  Doubtless, Henderson & Co. have thought of these questions, so we will have to await any findings they publish.

Second,  is the analogy to Kinsey so inapt?  Given the f*cking many recent (and not-so-recent) grads have experienced in Big Law, maybe not.

Mating gall wasps courtesy of Wikimedia.

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1 Response

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Well put. I was struck by AmLaw’s description of their process: “Partners are asked about what values and traits they want in their lawyers. Then the researchers pour over the resumes and evaluations of associates and partners trying to identify characteristics shared by those who have become ‘franchise players’ and those who haven’t” — what exactly are they pouring? I guess that’s a trade secret.

    It sounds as if this may lead to something analogous to a financial crisis in the making, since such data-mining creates a bias in favor of “a guy like us,” which leads to homogeneity and herd thinking. At the Wall Street firm where I had my first job in the law biz more than 30 years ago, I remember one associate (later partner) who was well-regarded despite being extremely quirky. A partner explained it to me thusly: “9 out of 10 ideas he has are crazy and useless. But the 10th one is crazy and a grand slam. And he’s full of ideas.” I can’t imagine a high-productivity culture accepting, much less nurturing, lawyers like that; of course, I can’t imagine any Wall Street firms where a partner buys pastrami sandwiches for 120 people on the floor because he’s found a terrific new deli and wants to share the news anymore, either.