Mandatory annual disclosure of number of lawyers and revenue by U.S. law firms

Why can’t the American Bar Association (or State Bars) require U.S.-based law firms above some modest-sized number of lawyers to report their fiscal year revenue along with a snapshot of the number of partners, associates, and support staff on the last day of the year?  The justification for that disclosure would be that clients, law school graduates or lawyers considering a job change, among others, would have comprehensive and reliable data on at least two key attributes of firms: size and revenue.

Yes, there are definitional issues, such as what does the term “partner” mean in the multi-tiered law firms of today and what makes up “revenue”.   Yes, there might be no way to confirm the accuracy of the self-reported numbers, but law firms that would have to comply have their books audited or reviewed by accountants, and the accountants could to attest to the reasonable accuracy of the four numbers.  Yes, I do not know what enforcement mechanisms might be available.  And yes, firms may fear that the initial data request slips down the proverbial slope to more and more.

Such concerns would need to be debated; they can be resolved.  If firms that have more than 30 lawyers fell under this mandate, then perhaps 1,200 to 1,500 law firms would each year turn in four numbers that they already know.  No work would be required except going to an online site and filling in the numbers.  The ABA or a third party could consolidate and publish that data and the legal industry would be greatly the beneficiary.

The label “cognitive computing”

“Cognitive computing” may be just another marketing buzzword, but legal managers will encounter it.  Based on KMWorld, Oct. 2016 and its white paper, “cognitive computing is all about machine learning, with some artificial intelligence and natural language processing.”  You can learn more from the Cognitive Computing Consortium  although that group does not yet support a legal sub-group.

In that regard, however, a LinkedIn user group called Artificial Intelligence for Legal Professionals has a couple of hundred members.

Create a choropleth to display data by State, country, region

When legal managers want to present data by State or by country, they can make good use of what is called a “choropleth”.  Choropleths are maps that color their regions in proportion to the count or other statistic of the variable being displayed on the map, such as the number of pending law suits per State or amounts spent on outside counsel by country.   Darker colors typically indicate more in a region and lighter shades of the color indicate fewer.

Below is an example of a choropleth that appears in Exterro’s 2016 Law Firm Benchmarking Report at page 8.  It shows how many of the 112 survey participants come from each state.


California is the darkest with 21; the grey states had no participants.  The table below the map, which is truncated in this screen shot, gives the actual numbers by State, so someone could carp that the choropleth sweetens the eye but adds no nutritional information.  Still, it looks pretty good and it is an unusual example of an effective graphical tool.