According to the University of California:
Statistics is the science concerned with developing and studying methods for collecting, analyzing, interpreting and presenting empirical data.
Two fundamental ideas in the field of statistics are uncertainty and variation. There are many situations that we encounter in life in which the outcome is uncertain.
Probability is the mathematical language used to discuss uncertain events and probability plays a key role in statistics.
Why does this matter to clients? It demonstrates to them that you are comfortable (you don’t need to be fluent, you just need to be comfortable) with descriptions of the world framed in terms of numbers, and that you can derive meaning and perspective from them.
I think of statistics primarily as the indispensable tool for (a) understanding a dataset and (b) putting it in context.
As for “understanding,” we recently discussed how the concept of “averages”—ubiquitous in statistics—was actually a horrible tool to use in trying to grasp what the listing of AmLaw 200 firms might reveal.
And as for “context,” a statistic in isolation—which can be impeccably calculated, based on entirely credible information, and the apt tool to use for the data at issue—can provide little or no real information absent context. If an AmLaw firm’s revenue increased X% from one year to the next but their lawyer headcount increased 3X%, that revenue “growth” suddenly looks a lot less impressive.
And for a more real-world, if tragic, example: Some weeks ago daily reports were all over the news that New York City was nearing its peak of daily deaths from Covid-19. (The officially reported peak was 598 dead on April 7.) In flagrant disregard of context, those reports never said how many people die in New York City on a “typical” day. If Covid-19 were increasing the death rate by a factor of 5, 10, 20, or more, that’s informative; and if it’s increasing it 2%, that’s also informative. But without context, what do you actually “know?” (We did some research and found that the average month sees about 5,000 people die in New York City so nearly 600 more on one day is, yes, a big deal.)
Now, you might argue that we’ve missed the soft skills: Emotional intelligence, a deep affinity for teamwork and collaboration, curiosity, and the simple social graces.
We completely agree.
The hitch is that “teaching” those skills/personality traits to lawyers is laborious and time-consuming. It also strikes us as just plain odd to classify that as something “associates [or partners or business professionals] need to know.” It’s a way they need to behave, feel, relate, interact, and a set of inbuilt intuitive reflexes that operate at the subconscious level.
Still, we’re actually optimistic about building those skills in lawyers.
- Read classic fiction, novels in particular.
- Read a generous helping of enduring management classics (for theory—Michael Porter’s “On Strategy,” Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” Roger Altman’s and A.J. Lafley’s “Playing to Win.”
- And read some business history as well; so you’ll learn from the lessons of the past that the choices your clients are facing can be existential in the moment and the “right” decisions obvious only through the lens of years of hindsight.
And leave technology to the software engineering geniuses.