Posted Feb 1, 2009 10:10 PM CDT
By Arin Greenwood
Say you’re the managing partner of a law firm. How do you find out what it would take to get your associates to stay at the firm?
You could guess. Or you could ask William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University. Henderson is one of a growing number of legal academics using regression analysis—a statistical tool that helps determine (warning: here comes even more math terminology) the relationship between variables.
According to Lynn LoPucki, a UCLA and Harvard law professor and an aficionado of regression analysis, the statistical tool is all the rage for academics who want hard data to find out what is happening in the world, beyond mere anecdotal hypothesis. He’s using it, with a little help from an on-staff Ph.D. in social sciences, to predict bankruptcy fees (see “Lehman by the Numbers,” January) or the likelihood of more WorldCom-style securities litigation.
Law schools are hopping on the bandwagon as well, offering courses on empirical legal studies for their aspiring academes. And a textbook on empirical methods and law is coming soon.
And for the rest of those in the right-brain-minded side of the profession, Henderson says regression analysis is really not all that hard to master. What’s hard sometimes is understanding the data. “Numbers can’t explain everything. I can explain the attrition phenomenon. I can explain the profitability phenomenon. But I can’t explain why people make choices that make them unhappy. Regression analysis is really useful, but there are some imponderables.”