I read Moneyball last year and it fascinated me. Then I found this blog discussing how legal academe may systematically undervalue certain types of high-performing law professors, the same way that professional baseball systematically undervalued certain high-performing players. From this vantage point I started thinking about how Moneyball principles might apply to the practice of law. In my experience, the legal market significantly undervalues some of its participants and overvalues others. We are beginning to see some market corrections, such as Nancy's ongoing discussion on the death of the billable hour and Mike Dillon (general counsel for Sun Microsystems)'s preference for boutique law firms over Big Law.
My purpose here is to bring some practical insights on how Moneyball principles apply to the practice of law, particularly litigation. I want to begin by examining what is evaluated in the legal market and who performs the evaluation. The "what" consists of legal talent (lawyers and law students) and litigation tactics. The "who" is more complex, consisting of five market evaluators:
(1) Lawyers evaluating litigation tactics
(2) Clients evaluating lawyers
(3) Law firms evaluating potential hires
(4) Law schools evaluating law students; and
(5) Services that "rank" lawyers and law schools.
These market evaluators often base their decisions on traditional metrics, but these metrics do not move in step with what makes an effective advocate. For example, the ability to write clearly and persuasively does not follow firm size, class rank, law school, or the other proxy measurements of lawyer talent nearly as well as the evaluators seem to think it does. As a result, legal talent and litigation tactics become overvalued and undervalued in the market, as the case may be.
I will discuss these market failures in future posts. My goal is to determine what makes an effective advocate and find methods to identify effective advocates. After all, this is the central goal of legal market participants--an effective advocate is what lawyers want to be, clients want to hire, and law schools want to produce.