Moneyball for Lawyers: How Tracking Data Can Help Your Practice
The word “data” conjures science labs and complex algorithms—hard math that not all lawyers feel comfortable discussing, let alone using. Yet the data that matters to a law practice is usually pretty straightforward—the number of criminal cases a firm took to trial in a particular county or how long it took a family law practice to complete divorces below a certain asset threshold.
Like any business, your law practice accumulates data every day. With every phone call, motion filed or hour billed, data accumulates. Attorney Patrick Palace, of Palace Law Firm in Tacoma, Washington, thinks you should be tracking it. Among his inspirations? A baseball movie. Moneyball is the true story of a baseball team that used statistics to identify undervalued players. Instead of looking for stars, the team looked for value.
“I love the idea that you can look at the data behind players, maybe under-utilized players,” Palace explains, “and by looking just simply at the statistics, you can put together an entire baseball team for a lot less money that is far more effective than paying top dollar for who’s supposed to be the best player.”
For law firms, it may be less about attracting the right talent, and more about the cases you take and how you manage the talent you already have. Palace’s personal injury firm tracks everything from case data to the number of calls it receives each day.
But unlike Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball, you don’t have to be an Ivy League number cruncher to win the day. Any law office can leverage data to make decisions strategically with quantitative evidence to back it up. Just look at three ways Palace Law Firm uses data:
Making Marketing Decisions
How can you tell if your efforts are working without a baseline to begin with? For example, knowing how many calls you got in the spring of 2019 can inform the success of your ad spending or social media efforts around the same time in 2020. Likewise, a dip in new cases may turn out to be something that happens every year around tax time—but you can’t know unless you have been tracking client retainers for more than a year.
Providing Performance Feedback
Online reviews inform consumers about a business, but businesses can also use them as a trove of useful feedback. If you start to notice that reviewers think dealing with your office is difficult or that the person at the front desk is rude, that’s important information that you can use to improve internal processes or give feedback to employees. Palace also sets quantifiable goals, such as number of files reviewed, for each employee based on their job functions so that employees have a clear goal to target and Palace can include quantifiable employee performance data in his performance reviews.
Tackling Process Problems
Palace gives the mundane example of mail. How many hard-copy letters get returned? How do those numbers compare with an average over the course of several months (or years)? Clerical errors that create process hiccups can lead to unhappy clients or, in worse-case scenarios, malpractice suits. But by tracking every mail return, you can identify trends before disaster strikes.
If you decide to track your case information—the number of cases in a particular sub-practice area or in each county you cover—you may reveal information you didn’t even know was there. Collecting case data and aggregating information from all your cases can reveal trends, such as which types of cases are costing the most to litigate.
Whatever part of your law practice you choose to track, you’re sure to discover a new solution or efficiency that can make your office run smoother and your business more profitable.
“When you realize what the potential is just looking at the data that exists, that’s floating around in the dust balls in the corners of your office, and you sweep it up and you use it,” Palace explains, “you see what kind of potential you have to make much more value in your firm.”