We live in an age where governments, business entities, and universities collect copious amounts of data. Much of it can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. While this is generally a good thing, lawyers are usually not experts at collecting, analyzing, or interpreting data. Nevertheless, this will not stop us from using data to buttress our positions (in the courtroom or otherwise). A recent example is affirmative action opponents' embrace of the "mismatch" theory. A much less well-known example about which I have written is when legal market reformers treat "unmet legal needs" as coextensive with lack of access to justice.
I love data. But data should rarely be wielded as controlling authority such that anyone who refuses to accept "the data" is acting in bad faith. Many disagreements about "the data" can in fact be traced to the parties' focus on different datasets or using data in ways that were not intended by those who collected it.
The increasing reliance on data poses problems for those who seek to instill greater civility in the legal profession. Data is supposedly "objective." Consequently, whereas we can accept - grudgingly - when our adversaries differ in their interpretations of certain cases or statutes, we are likely to be far less accepting when they refuse to acknowledge the purportedly objective, data-driven reality. We are seeing this play out with the value of law school debate.
The solution, I submit, is not to abandon data but for lawyers to approach it critically, even if happens to support our positions. And we should refrain from bludgeoning our opponents with impressive-sounding data unless we are confident that we understand its importance and limitations. An example of what not to do can be found here. [IRS sole proprietor filings should probably not be used to determine solo practitioner incomes because, inter alia, you're capturing tens of thousands of individuals who either report no income, don't work as lawyers, and/or work only part-time while excluding solos who have organized as professional corporations.]