Michael Coteau

Dear Friend,

I hope you will consider supporting Michael Coteau for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.  Here’s why I’m doing so:

Picture of Michael Coteau
Michael Coteau

Proven Winner. Michael was one of only seven Liberals to win his seat in the 2018 provincial election, even though he faced star PC candidate Denzil Minnan-Wong.  His outstanding campaign skills, and high electability, would maximize the chance to beat Doug Ford province-wide in 2022.  Electing a leader who is already an MPP also means that the party will not have to spend time and resources trying to get the Leader a seat in the legislature.

Cabinet Star.  Premier Wynne trusted Coteau with three portfolios simultaneously: Children and Youth Services, Community & Social Services, and Anti-Racism.  Leading a political party is not an entry-level job.  Compared to some of the other candidates, Coteau’s cabinet experience will give him a shorter learning curve when and if he is elected Premier. That means fewer mistakes, and more success in the early months of the next Liberal government at Queen’s Park.

Climate Champion. Climate change is, in my view, the single most important issue confronting Ontario.  Whether or not you plan to vote Liberal, if you care about climate change you should care about having a climate champion as Liberal leader.  Comparing the Liberal leadership candidates’ platforms shows that Coteau has by far the most comprehensive and aggressive plan to fight climate change: https://www.anewfocuson.com/a_green_ontario.  It includes a commitment to fare-free public transit, and a massive retrofit of public buildings for energy efficiency.

A Leader for a Diverse Ontario. Michael is an immigrant, who grew up in a working class household in Flemingdon Park.  When he speaks, it is obvious that his background has inspired him to make Ontario better for everyone. Check out this powerful video: https://vimeo.com/343424281. Coteau would present an exciting new face of the Liberal Party to Ontario.  He would be the first immigrant, and the first person of colour, to lead a major party and (hopefully!) serve as Premier.


Thank you for reading,

Noel Semple

Good Enough for Government Work? Life-Evaluation and Public Policy

Working Paper.

Full text:  https://ssrn.com/abstract=3397151

A life-evaluation question asks a person to quantify his or her overall satisfaction with life, at the time when the question is asked. If the goal of public policy is to make individuals’ lives better, does it follow that maximizing aggregate life-evaluations constitutes policy success? This paper argues that life-evaluation data provides a solid basis for welfare-consequentialist policy-making. This is illustrated by the successful argument for expanding state-funded mental health services in the United Kingdom.

However, life-evaluations do not always provide a complete account of individual welfare. Policy-makers therefore must sometimes inquire into the extent to which individuals’ preferences would be fulfilled, if different policies were to be adopted. This article proposes synthesizing life-evaluationist and preferentist data about individual welfare, as a basis for rational policy-making.

Measuring Legal Service Value

Forthcoming, University of British Columbia Law Review

Full text: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3144771

This article proposes a theoretical foundation for measuring legal service value. It aims to support efforts to compare the value of offerings from different law firms, as well as alternative legal service providers.

The value of any legal service depends on (i) its effectiveness, (ii) its affordability, (iii) the experience it creates for its clients, and (iv) third party effects (the impact the service-provider has on people other than the client).

These four elements of value can be quantified through various metrics applied to firms or entities that provide a given service. Output metrics evaluate either the actual real-world impact of a legal service service, or the written and oral work products of the firm. Internal metrics check for processes or structures within a firm that demonstrably support high value outputs. Input metrics focus on the attributes and credentials of the individuals who provide the service.

This article concludes that measuring legal service value is challenging, and may be dangerous if done poorly. Nevertheless, the rewards justify the challenge. Higher quality legal professionalism, more effective and less burdensome regulation, and consumer empowerment are among the payoffs if we can find better ways to measure legal service value.

Everybody to Count for One? Inclusion and Exclusion in Welfare-Consequentialist Public Policy

Working Paper

Ful Text Online: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3392370

Public policy should try to make individuals’ lives better than they would otherwise be, according to welfare-consequentialism. This article asks which individuals should count in welfare-consequentialist public policy analysis. Possible answers to the “who counts” question fall along a spectrum between parochial and inclusive. One relatively parochial answer is that only welfare effects experienced by the living human constituents of government should be considered. At the other end of the spectrum, a highly inclusive answer would be that welfare impacts on all individuals who are capable of having welfare should be weighed equally in a social welfare function.

The paper proposes a two-level theory to respond to the “who counts” question. Two-level theories distinguish between (i) what is ethically ideal, and (ii) decision procedures for humans who want to give effect to an ethical ideal, but have limited capacity to do so. Persuasive arguments support an inclusive approach that encompasses the unborn, foreigners, and animals. However, human predictions of the welfare consequences of policy options are prone to error. Welfare predictions about individuals who are temporally, politically, or biologically dissimilar from the predicting government are especially likely to be wrong. Using a social welfare function with excessive welfare-prediction requirements to make decisions may undermine the government’s capacity to correctly predict and advance anyone’s welfare. The paper concludes by analyzing alternative ways to make welfare-consequentialist decision procedures more parochial, and therefore more practical for real human governments seeking to make life better for everybody.

Measuring Legal Service Value, Part 2

Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Tuesday June 1, 2018.

Online: http://www.slaw.ca/2018/06/01/measuring-legal-service-value-part-2/.

What makes a great law firm? How can one quantify just how great a firm is, and compare it to its competitors? Last time in this space I suggested that legal service value has four elements (full paper here):

  • To the extent that a firm gets good legal results for its clients, it has effectiveness value.
  • To the extent that the firm’s fees are low and easy to pay, it has affordability value.
  • The more the firm’s practices minimize clients’ time and stress costs, the more client experience value it has.
  • Finally, if the firm’s work has many benefits and few costs for people other than its clients, it has high third party value.

In principle, a firm’s performance on these four elements of value can be quantified. If we could actually create accurate charts like these for legal services providers, we would have more empowered consumers, better self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses within law firms, and more evidence-based regulation. This project can also move us toward a more meritocratic legal profession, in which individual success is less dependent on racial and socioeconomic privilege.

An accurate quantification of value will require multiple metrics, and the array of metrics will depend on the legal niche in question. This column outlines three basic types of metric for quantifying legal service value: output metrics, internal metrics, and input metrics. Output metrics measure what comes out of the legal service provider. Internal metrics examine what happens inside the firm. Finally, input metrics analyze the people who walk in (or log in) to the firm each morning.

Output Metrics

Output metrics may analyze the outcomes created by law firms, or their work products. A simple example is win/loss rate, which can be informative in some administrative litigation niches if properly designed. Judges in England & Wales are now evaluating the advocacy of all lawyers who appear before them in criminal matters.

The best proof of a pudding is in the eating. Output metrics are, in principle, the bestway to evaluate legal service value. If we can tell from its outputs that a firm consistently produces great, highly affordable results for its clients, while leaving them happy and doing good in the world, we can be confident that it is a great law firm.

Unfortunately, output metrics for legal services are methodologically troublesome. They must be valid — they must measure what we are actually interested in instead of something else. Measuring affordability value by comparing the average bills of three law firms over the last 10 cases handled by each would not work, because any differences would be just as likely to reflect the complexity of the cases they handled. Especially in contested matters, the outcome depends on a wide range of factors other than the inherent value of the legal service provided.

One egregious example of an invalid output metric is the personal injury “Litigator Awards” handed out by the “Trial Lawyers’ Board of Regents” in the United States. This metric is based on whether or not a firm has settled cases for more than certain amounts within a set period. However no account is taken of the inherent strength of the cases in which these results were obtained. Thus, receiving a “Litigator Award” may well speak more to the prowess of a personal injury firm in attracting high-value cases than it does to the effectiveness of its advocacy for those clients.

Even if valid, an output metric may still lack reliability if the sample size is too small. For example, surveying past clients can be a good way to assess client experience value. However, because clients have idiosyncratic expectations of their lawyers, and some client evaluations are unreasonable or biased, the results cannot be relied upon unless a sufficient number of clients were surveyed.

Internal Metrics

Looking at what happens inside law firms is an an alternative to scrutinizing outputs in the effort to identify value. Most consumers aren’t interested in what goes on inside — they care about the outputs. However certain practices and structures demonstrably increase the chance that high-value services will be delivered. Checking for these practices and structures can be a helpful way to identify the firms likely to consistently produce great value, especially when output measures are methodologically impossible.

Some internal metrics focus on processes — what lawyers, and other people involved in legal service provision, actually do when working for a client. Common sense practices such as actively listening to clients and giving them a single point of contact within the firm have been empirically demonstrated to produce client satisfaction.

Structural attributes can also be the basis for good internal metrics. A firm that is free from harassment, racism, sexism, conflict, and excessive turnover is likely to produce better value.

The methodological challenge of internal metrics is that the information is private. Self-reporting is one way to get at this data. Peer file review and audit are somewhat more forceful techniques sometimes used by regulators and legal aid funders.

Input Metrics

How many years of experience does the lawyer providing the service have? What were her bar exam scores? How many practice hours have the firm’s staff accumulated in the niche? These are examples of input metrics, focused on the attributes of the people who do the work.

The advantage of such input metrics is that the data are relatively easy to gather and compare. The disadvantage is that this data seems to have a weak relationship at best with meaningful elements of value. Potentially more fruitful are surveys identifying the knowledge or skills that are most important for other lawyers to possess. If a variety of substantive knowledge (e.g. of the Criminal Code) or a personal skill (e.g. persuasive writing) demonstrably helps practitioners provide high quality services in a certain niche. If we have data about the extent to which different practitioners have these attributes, that can help us quantify and compare the value they offer.

A Steep Path, Worth Climbing

The value of a legal service is a complex aggregate of its effectiveness, affordability, client experience, and third party effects. Measuring it accurately requires gathering data from multiple sources, using a variety of methodologies. A “tyranny of metrics” that are misleading or counterproductive might be even worse than the status quo, in which the true relative value offered by different firms is mysterious, even to insiders.

However the author’s view is that it is entirely possible – and entirely worth the effort — to create accurate, objective methods to quantify the value propositions of different firms in different legal niches.

For a more detailed account, please see https://ssrn.com/abstract=3144771

Measuring Legal Service Value, Part 1

Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Tuesday April 5, 2018.

Online: http://www.slaw.ca/2018/04/05/measuring-legal-service-value-part-1/.

If you work at a law firm, how good is that firm? If you’re a client or potential client, how good are the different legal services providers that you might choose to patronize?

It’s too difficult, at present, to answer these questions in an objective and reliable way. This is most obviously true for individual people with legal needs. They generally confront a mysterious landscape populated with apparently indistinguishable law firms, as well as proliferating alternative sources of legal services.

However, even experienced corporate clients, and lawyers themselves, lack solid information about the respective merits of different legal service providers. To evaluate quality, they must often rely on opaque, methodologically suspect rankings or else anecdotal impressions of firms.

We need better ways to quantify and compare the value propositions offered by different providers of legal services. This column proposes a definition of legal service value, and next time in this space I’ll propose and categorize metrics for quantifying it. A detailed paper on these topics is available here.

Elements of Legal Service Value

There are four types of value offered by a law firm:

  1. Effectiveness Value means accomplishing clients’ legal goals and protecting clients’ legal interests. In litigation, this can mean maximizing (or minimizing) the award or settlement, or minimizing custodial sentence in a criminal defence matter. In uncontested matters, effectiveness means accomplishing the client’s legal goals, and minimizing all associated risks, to the greatest extent permitted by law and the client’s instructions.
  2. Affordability Value: More affordable legal services cost less. The way a firm structures its prices— for example by offering price certainty or deferred billing — also affects the affordability value the firm offers.
  3. Client Experience Value: Legal services are more valuable when they have a more favourable impact on the client’s time and the client’s mental state. Timeliness, communication, and understanding of the client’s life and/or business are valuable in and of themselves. If two firms are equally effective, and equally affordable, the firm that creates a better experience for its clients offers better value.
  4. Third Party Value: In addition to the client, there are various others who can be affected positively or negatively by a legal service and the way it is performed. Firms that create access to justice through pro bono work, or contribute to social goals like diversity and the rule of law, offer better value than those that do not.

The aggregate value offered by a service provider is represented by the space occupied inside this figure. The greater the area, the greater the total value offered by that firm.

The Value Profiles of by Different Firms

Different providers of a certain legal service (e.g. an initial public offering, or representation in an employment law dispute) have strengths and weaknesses in different elements of value. Quantifying elements of value separately, as this model seeks to do, allows consumers to make well-informed decisions, based on differing individual sensitivity to price and different aspects of value. Unlike rankings, this method can help consumers who are hunting for bargains, or those who are interested in results above all else.

The “All About Results” firm is the best of the four at getting the job done (high effectiveness value). The “No Frills” firm offers great affordability but modest scores on the other three elements of value. The third firm is “Service First” – its effectiveness and affordability are mediocre but it offers an outstanding client experience. Finally, the “Model Citizen” firm offers wonderful contributions to social goals backed by solid, if unspectacular results on the other three elements of value.

How to Quantify Value? 

This framework is of little use unless it can be filled in with real numbers. What data would quantify the extent to which competing legal service providers provide different elements of value? Next time in this space, I will consider output metrics, internal metrics, and input metrics – practical ways to measure and compare the value offerings of different legal services providers.

This blog is based on a working paper entitled “Measuring Legal Service Value,” which is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=3144771.