Caren Ulrich Stacy used to be a Big Law recruitment manager. Now she's the president of Lawyer Metrics, which aims to bring predictive analytics to attorney hires what Stacy calls "moneyball for lawyers."
The idea behind Lawyer Metrics, which she co-founded a little more than two years ago with Indiana University, Bloomington law professor William Henderson and Penn State's Christopher Zorn, is to bring the same statistical analysis to the hiring of corporate and litigation associates as the Oakland A's brought to the hiring of left-handed pitchers and base-stealing batters.
Moneyball the term writer Michael Lewis used in his bestselling book to describe the A's early and now much copied approach to assessing talent is shorthand for replacing hunches and traditional gauges of worthiness with metrics that actually correlate to winning games. A's manager Billy Beane figured he'd gain a competitive edge over richer teams by identifying undervalued players and avoiding those overvalued by traditional measures.
For law firms, the approach is similar: Figure out what traits are actually associated with success at a given firm, and recruit people with those skills and abilities rather than being overly dependent on factors like school attended, class rank or interview-room charm.
Data-driven recruiting is already common at the largest companies and in some legal departments. Stacy says law firms started getting serious about it four years ago, nudged by the recession and its effects on the law firm model. With less work for junior associates, firms didn't need to hire as many. So the old model scoop up a bunch of law students and hope some stars will emerge doesn't work as well. "The funnel is smaller," Stacy says, so firms have to improve the odds.
So far, Stacy and her 11-person team have done "moneyball for lawyers" for six Am Law 200 firms, and some sort of data-driven talent assessment for about 25. Stacy says she can't name the firms because they see it as a competitive advantage they don't wish to give up.
In the first phase of a moneyball project, Stacy's firm will "analyze biographical factors on the resumes and transcripts and correlate to performance." That means identifying high and low performers at the firm and then examining the factors from lawyers' resumes such as law school, rank, grades, prior work experience and clerkships. From that, "you can see what traits are associated with high performance at that particular law firm."
What do the superstars have in common? Maybe they did well at a lesser school, or did poorly at a good school. Maybe they all had a few years of work experience before starting law school. Maybe most of them were editors of the school law review; maybe none of them were.
It's a customized approach, Stacy says, because what success looks like changes from firm to firm depending on its culture and business.
"Phase two is correlating the biographical traits of high performers to behaviors so the firm can look for these desired traits in the interview process and further develop them through training once at the firm," she says. For instance, a biographical activity such as "a publication while in law school" might be highly correlated to the behaviors "initiative, writing, ownership and quality focus."
So what happens if the traits that correlate with success are things like being white, or female? Stacy says Lawyer Metrics will analyze demographic data when firms hand it over. "Firms that are willing to analyze their existing talent data to see what diversity issues might exist will have a greater chance of understanding and fixing any problems. And yes, they are also at a greater risk of finding out information they may not like to hear."