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    Improving the Odds of Success: Quantitative Methodology in Law Practice

    Quantitative methodology has many applications for lawyers in all practice areas – from determining whether to accept a particular client to weighing the value of a case to determining strategy in terms of possible outcomes to proving facts and more. Many business, medical, and other sophisticated clients already use these methodologies. Now you can “speak” their language to improve your odds of success.

    Daniel BlinkaRamesh Sachdeva

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 78, No. 12, December 2005

    Improving the Odds of Success:
    Quantitative Methodology in Law Practice

    Quantitative methodology has many applications for lawyers in all practice areas - from determining whether to accept a particular client to weighing the value of a case to determining strategy in terms of possible outcomes to proving facts and more. Many business, medical, and other sophisticated clients already use these methodologies. Now you can "speak" their language to improve your odds of success.


    eyeby Ramesh C. Sachdeva & Daniel D. Blinka

    Most attorneys did not select law school because of strong mathematics backgrounds, yet quantitative methodology (methods to measure data) is becoming increasingly important in diverse areas of law practice. For decades graduate and business schools have featured, if not required, quantitative methodology in the social sciences, business, finance, and economics. Yet overall, the legal profession and the nation's law schools have lagged behind, even though many clients fluently "speak" the language of quantitative methodology and an increasing number of legal problems beg for its application.

    This article surveys some of the current uses of quantitative methodology in law and projects several potential applications while providing a basic introduction to the subject. From the legal perspective, quantitative analysis is much more than a species of expert evidence at trial. And from a mathematics perspective, it is far more than statistics. Although its content and form certainly differ from the analogical reasoning that is the mainstay of modern legal education, quantitative analysis ultimately complements and enhances traditional legal analysis. We will begin by examining how quantitative methodologies have been used thus far in Wisconsin case law and, in the second half of the article, explore their potential for use in analyzing a variety of client issues.

    What are the practical applications of quantitative methodology for lawyers? First, and most familiar, a wide variety of quantitative methodologies, particularly statistical analyses, are used to prove such "facts" as employment discrimination, negligence, product defects, and causation. Second, a lawyer who understands these methodologies is better able to communicate not only with experts retained to testify or to provide advice but also with clients who regularly employ quantitative analyses. For example, decision tree analysis facilitates an objective evaluation of risks, outcomes, and expense whether the client is contemplating litigation or a pending transaction. And although its name connotes entertainment, game theory provides objective, seriously sophisticated tools that enhance an understanding of issues in complex litigation (or transactions) and promote rational settlement decisions. The remainder of this article explores the uses of quantitative methodology in existing law and outlines future applications.

    State and federal case law reflects the fits and starts by which lawyers have struggled to employ quantitative methodologies in a host of settings. In criminal cases one finds statistical analyses being used to identify (or exclude) suspects using DNA testing or, in a more troubling case, to calculate the "odds" that three young children died of natural causes while entrusted to the care of an allegedly homicidal babysitter.1 Despite its key role in some criminal prosecutions, quantitative methodology's fullest potential is most likely to emerge in civil litigation, which features a breathtaking diversity of issues, greater resources of (some) parties, and availability of extensive discovery mechanisms. Its promise as a potent source of proof is evident in a brief survey of cases.

    Daniel D. Blinka, U.W. 1978 cum laude, Ph.D. (American History), is a professor of law at Marquette University Law School, where he teaches and writes in the areas of evidence, trial practice, history, and criminal law, and coteaches a course in quantitative methodology with Dr. Sachdeva. Blinka is the coauthor of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Digests that appear monthly in Wisconsin Lawyer.

    Dr. Ramesh C. Sachdeva, Marquette 2003 cum laude, is vice president for quality and outcomes at the Children?s Hospital of Wisconsin. He has been a practicing faculty physician for 11 years and is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric critical care medicine. He is the Marquette University Law School Boden Research Fellow and an adjunct law professor, teaching courses in quantitative methodology and health care fraud. He has a Ph.D. (Epidemiology) from the University of Texas School of Public Health, is the recipient of many national grants, and has been funded for outcomes research focusing on the use of game theory applications in health care from the National Institutes of Health. He is a frequent author and lecturer at many national and international forums.

    Comparative Risk Evidence

    Several cases have raised issues regarding the admissibility of comparative risk evidence in tort actions. Although seemingly pointed in different directions, the cases underscore the importance of carefully scrutinizing the relevance and helpfulness at trial of quantitative methodologies.

    Bittner v. American Honda2 involved a plaintiff who sustained serious injury when his Honda all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rolled over. Honda introduced a staggering variety of comparative risk evidence in an effort to prove the ATV's relative safety. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the admissibility of statistical evidence showing the risk of injury associated with the use of other recreational vehicles, including snowmobiles, trailbikes, and minibikes - that is, similar products. Reversible error occurred, however, when Honda's expert "compared the risk of injury and death associated with ATVs to the risk of injury and death associated with products and activities including skiing, bicycle riding, scuba diving, football, and passenger automobiles."3 Although the court did not confront head-on the admissibility of quantitative methodologies, it concluded that risk analysis of "dissimilar products and activities" was unfair, inappropriate, and should have been excluded. In short, the Bittner court applied traditional standards governing "similar accident" evidence to the quantitative risk assessment developed by Honda's expert, resulting in an uneasy blend of new methodology and well-worn doctrine.

    Johnson v. Kokemoor,4 decided one year later, upheld the use of comparative risk evidence and illustrates how quantitative "thinking" in other professions and practices affects the law. Johnson sued her doctor, Kokemoor, for failing to inform her adequately of the risks associated with surgery to remove a brain aneurysm. A jury returned a verdict in Johnson's favor, finding that "a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position would have refused to consent to surgery by the defendant if she had been fully informed of its attendant risks and advantages."5 On appeal Kokemoor argued that the circuit court erred by admitting evidence of his limited experience in performing this type of operation, which he had failed to disclose fully, and a comparison of the "morbidity and mortality rates for this type of surgery among experienced surgeons and inexperienced surgeons like himself[.]"6 Specifically, Kokemoor told Johnson that the "risks associated with her surgery were comparable to the risks attending a tonsillectomy, appendectomy or gall bladder operation." To underscore the point, he placed the "risk of death or serious impairment associated with her surgery at two [2] percent." Yet, although Kokemoor pegged the risk of a bad outcome at 2 percent, the very medical studies he had relied on "reported morbidity and mortality rates of fifteen [15] percent" for even the most accomplished surgeons, and other evidence fixed the rate at 30 percent when the surgery was performed by a doctor of Kokemoor's limited experience.7

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice Abrahamson, upheld the admissibility of evidence concerning Kokemoor's limited experience and the relative risks of morbidity and mortality. Cautioning that informed consent cases are necessarily "fact-driven and context-specific," the court stopped short of "always requir[ing] physicians to give patients comparative risk evidence in statistical terms to obtain informed consent." Nonetheless, "[t]he fundamental issue in an informed consent case is less a question of how a physician chooses to explain the panoply of treatment options and risks necessary to a patient's informed consent than a question of assessing whether a patient has been advised that such options and risks exists."8 Kokemoor himself had "elected to explain the risks confronting the plaintiff in statistical terms" because, as he explained, "numbers giv[e] some perspective to the framework of the very real, immediate, threat that is involved with this condition." And having elected to present the risks in statistical terms, Kokemoor could not complain when the plaintiff demonstrated that Kokemoor had "dramatically understated" those risks by also using statistical evidence.9

    Bittner and Kokemoor teach that as powerful as quantitative methodology may be as an analytic tool outside the courtroom, when offered as proof at trial it must conform to the gatekeeping standards of evidentiary rules. Bittner effectively holds that comparative risk evidence about dissimilar products is unfair and confusing, yet invites its use in situations in which similarity can be established. Put differently, the supreme court broadly approved the quantification of "other accident (acts)"-type evidence. Kokemoor, the more compelling of the cases, illustrates that when parties themselves have elected to rely on quantitative assessments in the underlying event (here, the risk of surgery), discussion at trial of the quantitative assessments is also unavoidable, although such evidence must be channeled through the gates regulating expert testimony and relevancy. And in order to meet these standards, the lawyer must have a firm understanding of the underlying methodologies.

    Toxic Torts and Discrimination Cases

    Quantitative analysis often plays a central role in environmental hazards and toxic tort litigation. At the federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court's much-discussed, path-breaking decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals involved the admissibility of epidemiological evidence to prove that a drug had caused the birth defects at issue.10 When direct evidence of a causal link between a product (for example, a drug or toxin) and an injury (for example, neurological damage) is missing, epidemiology (the quantitative analysis of disease patterns in human populations) is often used to bridge the gap with the use of statistical analyses, such as the "standardized mortality ratio" (SMR).11 In assessing the sufficiency of epidemiological evidence to establish causation, courts closely scrutinize the strength and consistency of the purported association along with its "coherence" (the elimination of other factors), statistical analyses that usually demand expert consultation.12

    Cases featuring comparative risk analysis or epidemiological proof pre-sent seemingly exotic species of litigation, but employment discrimination cases vividly illustrate a body of legal doctrine that has embraced (or, depending on one's view, been co-opted by) quantitative methodology, particularly statistical analyses. Quantitative analysis is the norm, not the rare exception, in many types of employment cases and often opens the way for resolution at the summary judgment stage. In recent litigation involving claims of racial discrimination against United Parcel Service (UPS), the Eighth Circuit upheld summary judgment in favor of UPS largely because of the shortcomings of the plaintiffs' statistical evidence.13 For example, the court held that when the plaintiffs relied solely on regression analyses to prove discrimination in salary, those analyses must "show a gross statistical disparity and this must be a proper case - a case in which the gross disparity can give rise to a reasonable inference that paying blacks less because they are black is UPS's standard operating procedure." The plaintiffs' regressions fell short of the mark because they failed to adequately consider past pay and performance as well as adequately account for other explanatory variables.14

    The examples could be easily extended. The point is simply that quantitative analyses are a potentially powerful source of evidence that is supported by case law. Yet beyond the case law and problems of proof, quantitative analysis promises to assist lawyers and clients in more tangible ways. In the next section of the article, we survey several well-established quantitative methods and suggest how they may assist lawyers.

    Decision Trees and Game Theory

    As discussed earlier in this article, the application of quantitative methods in law is more than evidence and statistics. Quantitative methods affect the development of optimal strategies and facilitate decision making in the face of uncertainty.

    Modern business organizations in America have shown a renewed interest in applying the writings of ancient military philosophers while developing organizational strategies and tactics for contemporary organizations.15 This new direction is based on the premise that although "[i]ntuition plays an important role in decision making, ... it can be dangerously unreliable in complicated situations."16 It has been argued that decisions that deal with complex problems involving evaluation of many choices and consequences exceed the ability of a human mind to process such choices.17 This results in the decision maker erroneously relying on simplified choices and relying on intuition.18 It has been further argued that relying on one's intuition is unreliable in complex situations.19 Therefore, it is important that the "intuitive capabilities" of the decision maker be supplemented with "computational decision-support tool[s]."20

    Like business people who must make strategic decisions and choices in the face of uncertainty, lawyers also make strategic decisions and choices with limited information and with an element of uncertainty. Decision tree analysis can be used to facilitate a variety of day-to-day decision making by lawyers both in the litigation and transactional areas. Decision tree analysis has been applied to objectively assess the risks and costs associated with a case, to estimate contingency fees, and to assist with the development of litigation strategy.21

    An example of a simple decision tree to facilitate decision analysis is illustrated in Figure 1. As shown in this figure, the decision maker has to make a choice between two options - Choice 1 or 2 at the decision node (represented in the decision tree as a square). Each choice is associated with one of two likely outcomes (Outcomes I - IV), with associated probabilities (p). Probability is the likelihood of an event occurring, with 1.0 representing 100 percent certainty of the event occurring and 0.0 representing 0 percent chance of that event occurring. A chance node (represented in the decision tree as a circle) analyzes the impact of chance; the two branches stemming from the chance node are called chance branches. Finally, the terminal node (represented in the decision tree as a triangle) measures the value (or payoff) of a final outcome. All the possible outcomes from a chance node must be illustrated in the tree, and accordingly, the sum of the probabilities for each set of chance branches must be 1.0. There are several decision analytic software programs available for constructing decision trees. Data 3.5, developed by TreeAge Software Inc., was used to develop the decision tree in Figure 1. The software allows rolling back the tree - that is, computing the expected value, which is the average payoff that could be expected in repeated decisions in similar fact scenarios.

    Decision analysis provides a systematic framework to facilitate decision making when one is dealing with uncertain factors.22 The decision analytic approach is explicit, quantitative, and prescriptive.23 The process forces the decision maker to analyze a complex problem in small components and then to analyze the full problem in a meaningful manner.24 Furthermore, because the process is quantitative, the decision maker has to explicitly quantify the value attributed to choices.25

    Figure 2 illustrates a hypothetical scenario in which a lawyer has to recommend to a client whether or not to settle a case. As illustrated in Figure 2, the decision involves two choices - litigate or settle. In this hypothetical, the plaintiff can accept the $500,000 settlement offer right away or litigate the case, which will likely take one more year before the litigation is complete. It is estimated that juries in this jurisdiction have awarded $1 million for similar cases and the likelihood of winning the case in a jury trial is 70 percent. Based on previous experience with the opposing party, it is predicted that there is almost an 80 percent chance of the party appealing the decision if the jury awards $1 million. Further, based on expert opinion, the chance of winning an appeal is about 60 percent. It is further estimated that trial costs of $100,000 will likely be incurred.

    Figure 3 shows the results from rolling back the decision tree. The expected value of settling the case is slightly higher ($500,000 versus $476,000) than litigating it. Once the trial costs are factored in, the expected value of settling becomes even greater. Also, because the net present value (NPV) of compensation in the future is less than the value of the same compensation in the present, the strategy to settle is the preferred approach.

    Decision tree analysis enhances intuitive decisions in a number of ways. First, the visual nature of the decision tree analysis can be used effectively to facilitate discussions with clients to evaluate options. Second, by explicitly requiring the assessment of probabilities, the lawyer and client are forced to assess the risks associated with individual components within a decision. Third, changing the probabilities within the decision tree and conducting a sensitivity analysis can efficiently evaluate the impact of a change in risk within a specific component of a larger decision. Finally, a decision tree analysis in complex scenarios with multiple options can be invaluable to assist intuitive decision making.

    Decision analysis is not limited to decision tree analysis. Management science or operational research (OR) is a distinct scientific field that aims to facilitate decision making using a scientific, logical, and rational paradigm. Stemming from concepts emerging in game theory, OR gained increasing popularity during World War II, when mathematical approaches within OR were successfully used to identify optimal options and strategic choices.25

    OR has been used successfully in a variety of service and manufacturing industries. Traditionally, OR included hard (more quantitative) techniques such as system dynamics, queuing theory, and simulation.26 Recently, there has been a shift toward using soft (more qualitative) OR, such as cognitive mapping and soft system methodology, to better assist with problem formulation and mapping the relationships between various constructs.27 For example, a combination of system dynamics and cognitive mapping was successfully used for "decision support" during the litigation and settlement process of a claim with a potential value of 3.5 billion French francs caused by the alleged disruption and delay of constructing the "channel tunnel link between England and France."28 (Please see the accompanying sidebar, "Definitions of Operational Research (OR) Terms.")

    A combination of hard and soft OR methods has been shown to enhance the ability of the decision maker to use results emerging from statistical and outcomes analysis. This enhanced ability has resulted in greater understanding and acceptance of findings emerging from such decision support models even by individuals who are not familiar with the scientific methods.29 This observation shows that such decision analytic models can be successfully understood and adopted by individuals without requiring specific knowledge in the scientific and mathematical fields.30

    Quantitative methods are increasingly being used in health care. As illustrated in Figure 4, the Institute of Medicine identified six dimensions of quality of health care. However, a significant challenge remains with respect to how to quantify and measure these quality dimensions, issues that represent a major focus of many national initiatives. At the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, these six dimensions have been operationalized (implemented in specific clinical settings) to quantitatively measure the quality and outcomes of health care as illustrated in Figure 4 (these findings have been presented at several national meetings across the U.S. during 2004-05). The important aspect of this quantitative application is that it allows a link to the Plan-Do-Study-Act Quality Improvement cycle, which has widespread acceptance in hospitals. Indeed, the cycle has been adopted by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement because it measures, among other things, the improvement in health care in a quantitative manner over time.

    Undoubtedly, quantitative methods may have new applications in a variety of previously unexplored areas within the law. To take one final example, a recent, provocative article contends that computer models can be used to map U.S. Supreme Court opinions over time with the objective of identifying a "main core" of precedents that dominate certain legal issues. Such mapping, some people speculate, may one day yield Ronald Dworkin's "Hercules," an ideal judge with perfect knowledge of every decided case.31


    Case law recognizes the potential of quantitative methodology as a means of proof at trial, yet the potential remains largely untapped. Once lawyers familiarize themselves with this type of evidence, its usefulness and power will be more fully appreciated. Yet quantitative methodology is not confined to litigation. Game theory and decision tree analysis are ways of thinking commonly used by other professionals in their day-to-day conduct of medicine or business. And for that very reason, practicing lawyers will find it an enormously effective means of communicating with clients about complex transactions or litigation strategies.

    1State v. Peters, 192 Wis. 2d 674, 534 N.W.2d 867 (Ct. App. 1995) (court admitted population statistics involving a DNA match); State v. Pankow, 144 Wis. 2d 23, 422 N.W.2d 913 (Ct. App. 1988) (court allowed evidence that quantified "odds" of three children dying of natural causes while in the care of an unrelated person).

    2Bittner v. American Honda Motor Co., 194 Wis. 2d 122, 533 N.W.2d 476 (1995).

    3Id. at 150-51.

    4Johnson v. Kokemoor, 199 Wis. 2d 615, 545 N.W.2d 495 (1996).

    5Id. at 620-21.

    6Id. at 621.

    7Id. at 644.

    8Id. at 646-47.

    9Id. at 647.

    10Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

    11Phillip Good, Applying Statistics in the Courtroom: A New Approach for Attorneys and Expert Witnesses 97-98 (2001). According to Good, a standardized mortality ratio (SMR) of 1.0 is the expected incidence of disease regardless of exposure to the suspected toxin; an SMR of 2.0 means that the toxin was as likely as not to have caused the damage, and an SMR greater than 2.0 means that the toxin was more likely than not the cause.

    12Id. at 100-03.

    13Morgan v. United Parcel Serv. of Am., Inc., 380 F.3d 459 (8th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 1933 (2005).

    14Id. at 469-70.

    15See Sun Tzu, Art of War 18 (Ralph D. Sawyer trans., Westview Press 1994).

    16See Eric Bonabeau, Don't Trust Your Gut, Harv. Bus. Rev., May 2003, at 116.

    17Id. at 121.




    21See Marc B. Victor, Articles Authored by Marc B. Victor, Esq., available at http://www.litigationrisk.com (last visited Sept. 12, 2005) (indicating the use of decision tree analysis for evaluating legal risks and costs, minimizing guesswork in contingency fee proposals, choosing an optimal fee arrangement, determining how much a case is worth, and assisting with litigation strategy).

    22See, e.g., Milton C. Weinstein et al., Clinical Decision Analysis 3 (W.B. Saunders 1980).



    25See, e.g., Fran Ackermann, Colin Eden, & Terry Williams, Modeling for Litigation: Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Interfaces, 27:2, 48 (1997).

    26See id. at 49.


    28Id. at 49-50.

    29See Ramesh C. Sachdeva, Mixing Operational Research Methodologies to Achieve Organizational Change - A Study of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (2005) (unpublished Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) thesis, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, U.K.) (on file with the University of Strathclyde Library).

    30See id.

    31See Statistical Modeling: The Wisdom of Hercules - Using Computer Models to Identify American Jurisprudence, The Economist, Aug. 27, 2005, at 65.