Column

Evidence Versus Prediction

What is the point of all that time-consuming and expensive study of and training in law, jurisprudence and rational thinking if, once into the real world, it is all thrown aside in favour of feelings and emotions, fairground fortune-telling, astrology, belief in the power of positive thinking and gambling like a sad addict?

It seems to me that people attempting to influence serious lawyers or sell to them should realise that the latter are sometimes cautious and risk-aware for the very good reason that they are supposed to rely primarily on evidence and logic before making judgments. While, obviously, the prediction of future events and outcomes and evidence are not entirely mutually exclusive, in my opinion, the best decisions are made only when the former is soundly and verifiably based on the latter. Often, even seemingly quality research on how things might change can produce results to which caution should be employed before acting upon them. Publishers, in particular, are inclined to confuse research results with PR and sales messages, with little connection between prediction and evidence.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply in legal circles. Every credible business or parallel entity has processes to manage decision making, with evidence-based business-case requirements and rules. Bad decisions, though, are sometimes made, to which many business failures are testament.

For all that, it is well beyond my areas of competence, interest and experience to having anything meaningful to say about the actual practice of law and such opinions as are expressed relate only to the issue of law publishing and the provision of information to and for people with interests in law. The gap between the two, however, should not be enormous.

One of the pleasures of being in certain kinds of legal information provision, where the question of reliance on evidence is primary, is in knowing that what is presented to the customer is verifiably optimal and appropriate; its importance to society is undeniable. With cases, statutes and other sources analysed, compared and contrasted in great detail by recognised experts, it rises above form-filling processes and time-saving tools to be genuinely evidence-based and capable of being used in the highest courts. The information content that is offered must carry with it a level of trustworthiness and quality that is consistent with the specific and varied requirements of legal and professional practice. The hope and indeed expectation must be that the many new services coming to the market that offer artificial intelligence with predictive analytics will do just that. At the same time, the importance of objective, incisive and continuous review and renewal of existing portfolios in all viable formats, to ensure that scholarship is sustained and not lost, cannot be understated.

In contrast, it is not good enough for consultants, visionaries and seers to say that something will happen but to no measurable extent and in no particular time frame. There needs to be evidence at least on the balance of probability, with it being beyond reasonable doubt as an even better standard of proof. One cannot just assert, feel or personally believe that outcomes will be achieved and on such bases alone expect to be taken seriously. Often the crude classifications of people and groups and their perceived requirements and wishes are meaningless in understanding factors that drive change. Analysis and responses based on crass metaphors and much hype are worth avoiding. So, regarding those whose language is littered with vague images, similes and clichés, there’s a reasonable chance that they’re lying or at best are ignorant of the topic and cannot risk being challenged on specific details. In such instances where all the examples offered are from other markets or environments in which they may indeed have some knowledge, it may be that this has no relevance to the matter actually under discussion and merely serves to bluff and mislead.

Where I would be cautious is in being told, even if it might, in part, be true:

  • Be amazed at what’s in vogue and/or what will be “the next big thing”
  • Don’t trust or listen to your own colleagues; they’re the ignorant and stupid enemy within, just trying to maintain the status quo
  • Doubt is for losers; scepticism is very harmful; cynicism is of the devil
  • Everybody else got it wrong or failed to understand what I’m telling you now
  • I’m not trying to sell you anything
  • I’m going to make you rich(er); if that doesn’t happen, don’t blame me
  • No one other than me has seen the future and I am about to create a picture for you
  • OK, the up-front cost is high, and I’ll need to be involved forever but [any old nonsense]
  • That which is from the past is embarrassingly bad
  • That which is in the future can’t be fully defined and explained but will be awesome
  • The huge mistake up to now has been [any old nonsense]
  • The one thing that you must understand is [any old nonsense]
  • Trust me; I’m a salesperson/consultant; I have a dream; just wish it and it will come true

Lawyers, accountants and other professional advisers are at their best when they assume the role of highly-skilled, expertly informed, responsible and ethical managers and measurers of risk. At the same time, they need to manage their own businesses and profitability and make the best use of technology and innovation to deliver their goals. For those who wish to deliver legal content, information, tools and other solutions to lawyers and their clients’ problems, whatever stage we are at in the evolution of what has been the law publishing business they would be wise to try to align themselves to the thinking processes and principles that underlie legal practice, rather than upon their own assumptions. My inclination would be generally to give the technological innovation the benefit of the doubt but be careful of some of the people selling it.

Notable recent pointers around the legal and professional publishing market include the steady disengagement from legal and regulatory publishing markets by Wolters Kluwer, as it did not long ago in the UK with the sale of Croner.CCH, the CCH-branded part of which, I suspect, was a reluctant, if not forced purchase and primarily a concession. The latest disposal is in Sweden, where it has sold assets including legal and regulatory information, in print and digital formats, as well as printing and distribution services, to Karnov Group, Denmark’s and Sweden’s leading provider of legal and tax information. It has also sold its Corsearch trademark solutions business to Audax Private Equity, for $140m. It had previously announced a review of strategic alternatives for Corsearch, that has been part of GRC (Legal Services). More positively, 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of UK-based, Justis while 2018 sees 200 years of Butterworths.

Start the discussion!

Leave a Reply

(Your email address will not be published or distributed)