Wednesday, December 6, 2006

When in Doubt, Be an Empirical Scholar

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

To recap the bidding, I suggested last night a hypothesis that if you looked at "tort" and "employment" lawyers in the regional elite law firms, the breakdown of "top 25" versus "non-top 25 schools" would look like Bill Henderson's data comparing the law schools of elite plaintiffs' lawyers Duranversus the more traditional corporate big firms.  Alan, being the great scholar and teacher that he is, attacked my thesis at its weakest, the admittedly visceral and non-rigorous appeal to tort versus contract jury instructions.  I hereby cry "no mas, no mas"* on that point; it's a red herring, I admit.

But I decided it would be interesting to look at just a little bit of data to test my hypothesis; after all it is falsifiable, and hence legitimately empirical.

Let me also add that I'm making generalizations, not value judgments.  Among my former colleagues, the best mergers and acquisitions lawyer I ever met (Martin B.Feeney_1 Cohen, formerly of Skadden, Arps, and AlliedSignal/Honeywell) did not go to a top 25 law school; one of the best tort trial lawyers I have ever met,** Jim Feeney (right, who went up against super-plaintiffs' lawyer and former gubernatorial candidate Geoffrey Fieger in the Jenny Jones "outing" wrongful death case in Michigan) did go to a top 25 school.  Nor am I making judgments about the exam-taking skills that get you into law school or through it with "distinction;" I have here on my desk a book just in from entitled Appreciative Intelligence:  Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn, which is about the creative and leadership abilities.  I don't claim any relationship between traditional measures of intellectual achievement and "appreciative intelligence."

But on to the data below the fold.

Here is the result of my little empirical experiment this morning.

Because I had mentioned the firm as an example, and because I have never worked with it, and don't know anybody there, I chose the listing in the 2004 Martindale-Hubbell (the one in the Tulane Reading Room) for Thompson Coburn in St. Louis, MO.  I just looked at the partners (although it would be interesting to compare the data for the associates).

Each partner describes his or her practice area.  I divided the sample as follows:  if the practice description used the words "product liability" "tort" "insurance" "labor" or "employment" I counted that as "tort and employment law, " even if the partner described his or her practice as including something else.  Everything else, including litigation that did not specify the above, was "all other."

I counted 133 partner biographical entries.  There were 34 "tort-employment" partners and 99 "all other."  I used the USNWR top 25 as my index for schools.

Within "tort-employment":

34 total partners
14 partners from top 25 schools or 41%
2 partners from non-25 listed Order of the Coif

Within "all other"

99 total partners
55 partners from top 25 schools or 55%
13 partners from non-top 25 school listed Order of the Coif

I have to admit I was most of the way through when I realized that St. Louis University has "Order of the Woolsack" which I did not count, but I don't think it would change the result much.

So compared to Bill's data (32% from the top 25 for Inner Circle Trial Lawyers versus 64% for Am Law 200), my quick and dirty for one firm somewhere down the Am Law list was 41% for tort-employment versus 55% for all other.  I'm not a statistician so I don't know if that's significant, but it seems to point directionally toward my hypothesis.

*This poster and many others like it are available on eBay.

**And the Commissioner of my daughter's tee-ball league back in 1991 or so.

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Yeah, well, No Mas was from Leonard-Duran II . . . in the Louisiana Superdome, I believe.

Posted by: Childress | Dec 6, 2006 11:32:38 AM


I think you have advanced a reasonable (and reasonably testable) hypothesis. Indeed, it is these types of relationships that I think are worth teasing out if we are serious about moving past anecdote and stereotype and toward meaningful characterization of social reality.

Entertaining a hypothesis is a separate issue from whether we like its possible normative implications. All else equal, better facts enable us to effect better normative outcomes. bh.

Posted by: William Henderson | Dec 6, 2006 12:19:11 PM

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