Did “data analytics” ruin baseball? Depends on whom you ask: the cranky old man in a Staten Island bar or the nerd busy calculating Manny Machado’s wRC+ (it was 141 in 2018, if you cared to know).
What is indisputable, though, is that the so-called “Sabermetrics revolution” rapidly and fundamentally changed how the game is played – this is not your grandpa’s outfield!
And data is eating the whole world, not just baseball. Now it’s coming for the legal profession, of all places. The Financial Times recently published an article on how law analytics companies are using statistics on judges and courts to weigh how a lawsuit might play out in the real world. One such company does the following (per the article):
The sort of information that might be analysed includes how many times the opposing lawyer has filed certain types of lawsuit, in which court, with what success rate, who they have represented, and which attorneys they have faced. Once a judge has been assigned to the case, legal research companies can provide statistics on his or her record as well.
Another law analytics firm “shows the litigation history of judges, lawyers and law firms, including win/loss rates for trials that are benchmarked to competitors, the success rates of different types of motion in individual courts and a database of who sues and gets sued most often.”
Proponents reportedly argue that this is a) a more efficient way to go about the business of law and b) a way to identify where the legal system is inconsistent.
That being said, it’s not yet all sunshine and roses for legal system Sabermetricians. As the FT notes, most litigation is dropped or settled, which means there are no public court documents for those cases. Which means no data to be mined. How many cases get dropped or settled? Perhaps as many as 90 percent. Big data is hard when most of the data don’t exist.
So that means doing things the old-fashioned way. One law firm identified by the FT supplements data gaps by using (quel horreur!) real human lawyers to assess how a case might fare during the legal process.
Another issue is whether anything useful can be gleaned from what little data there are. One gentleman quoted in the article put it thus: “The judge analytics demonstrations I have seen to date oscillate between the blindingly obvious and the statistically irrelevant.”
Nonetheless, as the datasets grow, it doesn’t seem impossible that the ability to assess lawsuits will only improve. Which leads me to wonder: will judges change their behavior in response? The baseball data revolution didn’t just reveal information – it changed how players actually played in response to that information. Data isn’t passive, turns out. It remains to be seen how shining the light of data on the court system could change the court system itself.