Business of Law

BigLaw's obsession with metrics is cautionary tale for doctors, article says


The legal profession is suffering because of rankings and metrics, providing a cautionary tale for medicine, according to a commentary by a doctor and a lawyer.

Writing in the Atlantic, physician Richard Gunderman and lawyer Mark Mutz describe the ills affecting the legal profession: Rates of alcoholism and depression are higher for lawyers than the general public. Eighty-five percent of law school graduates now have at least $100,000 in debt. Median salaries for grads who can find work are down by 17 percent. Lawyers also suffer in the eyes of the public; only 19 percent of Americans say you can trust lawyers.

Part of the blame lies with law school rankings and a focus on profits per partner, the story says. In law firms, money is used to gauge performance and noble aspirations may fall by the wayside. “There is only a relatively fixed quantity of legal work to be done, and for one firm or attorney to command more of it, others must make due [sic] with less,” the article says. “At many big firms, just beneath a veneer of cordiality lurks a shark-like ethic of eat-or-be-eaten, winner-take-all, cut-throat competition.”

Though medicine’s attention to metrics lags behind law, “it is now proceeding down the same path,” the article says. “Hospitals and medical practices will be placing increasing pressure on their physicians to ratchet up productivity, another euphemism for the amount of revenue they generate. Physicians who care for the poor, take their time, and get to know their patients are likely to suffer in the rankings.”

The article says it is possible to reverse course “and restore a sense of what it really means to be a professional—to be devoted to the service of others and the ideals of a noble profession.”

Updated with minor edit in direct quote from underlying article.

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