Why Lawyers (or Legal Education) Make Good Data Scientists?

Lawyers and Data Scientists share a similar passion for discovery and uncovering the truth

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I went to law school, passed the bar, advocated, and choose tomove on in my career to data science. But before the foray into law, I was a statistics major, database programmer, and business analyst. I have convinced (1) lawyers that a quantitative background enhanced legal analysis and (2) technical teams that my legal experience supported the data decision-making process. Both view points were authentic and reasonable, aka I didn’t lie to anyone (or myself). I expressed to employers and schools how the important underlying motivations of each profession are similar and overlap with each other.

First and foremost, lawyers and data scientists share similar passions for discovery and uncovering “the truth.” While there are many truths in law and data, neither leave professional will leave a conversation without pointing out the nuisances to all sides (especially if you give the the time to explain). Both are adept at finding the “more true than most” in the analysis of the facts. For data scientists, the “dominant trait…is an intense curiosity—a desire to go beneath the surface of a problem, find the questions at its heart, and distill them into a very clear set of hypotheses that can be tested.” Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job in the 21st Century (HBR, Oct 2012). Lawyers and data scientists are represented as “left brain” thinkers, a group characterized with logical and analytical traits, while “right brain” thinkers are deemed to possess more creative, physical, and emotional traits. Are you Left- or Right-Brain Dominant?

Communication and interpersonal are practical and soft-skills heavily sought after in data scientists, individuals or in teams. Lawyers are communication facilitators for transactions and litigation, explaining and shepherding people through the labyrinth of regulations, requirements, and paperwork. Data in a business context closely ties people and information, any change in  process requires the people to come with it too. Currently, data scientists are hire by organizations in at a manager level or above to facilitate such process and people changes, as well as having the ear of one or more executive. Not only are data scientist expected to innovate, she may be needed to lead and inspire. For the data scientist, there is no better way to learn and practice the art of persuasion than a legal education or the courtroom.

Data and words are cold representations of humanity on the paper or a screen. The human component must be applied to interpretation trends and analysis of results, whether it be finalizing a divorce, receiving damages from a business, or finding the top products for your business. In the legal arena, the impact of law and precedence on people must be applied and imagined at every step. In the world of analytics, data scientist must get to know business issues, including people and processes, and learn how to empathy with customers and users through data.

Systems play a huge part in both legal and data analysis, from basic to complicated models. The type of mind ripe for questioning of a systems and processes in analytical ways are shared between lawyers and data scientists. Both use their specific tool set to see the big picture more clearly, as well as drill down into the outliers and differences. Although, the tools specific for attorneys and data scientists require honing and sharpening may be very different at the moment, it is converging now. As a result of innovation in text analysis and review of unstructured data, words, legal reasoning, and precedence will eventually be as straight-forward to analyze as numbers.

Legal frameworks complement analytical and technical methods, while the programming mind also benefits complex logic and implementation. It also never hurts to tap into your own polymath capabilities. However, the content in this post is not to encourage programmers (or anyone) to get a legal education, more so because of the cost of education and culture of legal practice not to except “non lawyers” as readily as the other way around. If a lawyer asked me about learning to programming, my answer is “hell yes!”

Chris Lawton

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