Baseball is at its greatest in October. In baseball, statistics rule. People analyze stats to predict the future. Just about everyone accepts that a hitter is valued by the hitter’s batting average. A hitter’s batting average is the number of hits divided by the number of at-bats. That’s easy enough, but it gets a little complicated when you are characterizing at-bats vs. plate appearances, because not every plate appearance is an at-bat. Stat guru Bill James in the 1980s came up with sabermetrics to scientifically determine why teams win and lose. James put forth the proposition that batting average was not the best valuator of a hitter, and that another stat, OPS, better reflects the hitter’s value to the team. OPS is the sum of the hitter’s on base percentage and slugging average. I could write a whole lot more on these two components, but the point is that while we may quibble with which stats to use, in baseball stats define a player’s value.
And that got me to thinking. How do you value an attorney’s performance? Yes, there are of course billable hours, hourly rates, and originations. But maybe billable hours, hourly rates, and originations are the equivalent of batting averages. And I would go further and say that billable hours, hourly rates, and originations only show the value of the lawyer to her law firm. Can we come up with a stat that shows the lawyer’s value to the client?
I believe that the value of a lawyer to the client is based on two components. First, how experienced is the lawyer? Specifically, how many matters like the present matter has the lawyer handled before? How many matters has the lawyer handled against the same opposing counsel before? There is no substitute for experience, and having handled multiple similar matters gives the lawyer insights into how the present matter will progress. The lawyer can use lessons learned from previous matters to advise the client about how to bring the current matter to a resolution.
The second component is cost. How much will it cost the client to have the attorney handle the matter? An attorney can boast about an unbeaten streak of trial victories, but the win streak takes a back seat if the cost to take a case to trial far exceeds the financial constraints of the case. The lawyer’s experience should come into play with cost, because the more experienced an attorney is at a particular type of matter, the more efficient the attorney should be at handling a particular type of matter. If the Y axis is cost and the X axis is number of similar matters, then over time the graph would flatten out as the attorney gains more experience handling similar matters.
So the client is right to ask “How many matters have you handled, and how much will it cost me?” A lawyer becomes valuable to the client when the lawyer can answer these questions up front and based on the lawyer’s past experiences.