Opening Statements

Analyze This

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.”

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