Continuums*

Meaningful, Measurable Shades of Gray

Theory

At another location in these pages we have quotes from two noted theoretical physicists, Albert Einstein (relativity) and Barry Gell-Mann (quantum mechanics). Their work symbolizes two concepts (positioning and continuums) we must use to understand the thoughts and feelings of clients and potential clients. With that understanding we can better make, and act on, the predictions that will satisfy them and benefit us. One concept, continuums, deals with infinite possibilities of variation along a line between two opposites. The other concept, positioning, deals with ordinal , sequential relationships.

A continuum is a conceptual way of analyzing incremental differences between individuals in terms of a concept.

Using continuums benefits the law practice developer because it allow more accurate understanding of a phenomena, more efficient application of planning resources and more effective program development or modification. A 'continuum' goes from a concept to a practice development tool when we couple it with tools that allow us reasonable measurement such as client and/or market research and data base practice development techniques. As any technogeek will tell you, when measurement is applied to a process, calibration is always with us.

Practice
The best way to explain this concept is by demonstration. While it discussed in greater detail elsewhere in these pages, let's look at a continuum called 'clients'. By training and experience, we generally see clients as individuals, either natural or legal persons. We deal with them one at a time and each is always unique and individual. While this is true, there are attributes of clienthood that can best be analyzed on a continuum gradient. Lets consider the likelihood of your firm providing legal services to any given individual within the next 30 days as element to be analyzed. The potential client population of your research territory is the total number of possible clients. Statistics guys call this the 'universe of possibilities'. Everyone in your market fits on the continuum somewhere. The 'chance of providing services' continuum has 'almost zero' at one end and 'almost certain' on the other. People who have never heard of your firm and already have a lawyer are near the 'almost zero' end and your satisfied clients with a trial starting tomorrow are at the 'almost certain' end. So far this is an elaborate discussion of what you already knew.
Let's go further and 'calibrate' the continuum. All this means is that we place rational numbers along the continuum with nearly 0% at one end and almost 100% at the other. (This is the 'chance' that you will provide legal services to any given individual within the next 30 days.) We can research** members of the population and place them on the continuum. At the end of the process, if we total the number of individuals at any given percentage and represent these numbers as vertical bars on the continuum, we'll have created a graph of our data. Now we can 'see' clients and potential clients as a visual presentation of the likelihood of service in the next 30 days. This is interesting, but we need to go a step or two further.

Tools are things that we use to get the job done. Before we can use this continuum as a tool we need to define the job. Lets define the job as testing whether or not a particular marketing program is effective in increasing the chance of potential clients coming to us for legal service in the next 30 days. If we do one continuum graph at the beginning of the program and one at the end, we can compare the two. The success of the program will be 'shown' by the changes in the two graphs. While there is more to it than this simplified example, hopefully this shows how a continuum can be used to simplify the complexity of practice development.

Caveat

The uses to which you will put a continuum must be 'designed in' at the beginning of a program or project. Say, for example, your firm is thinking of expanding the services it offers corporate clients and wants to compare how prospective clients' value different areas of service so that you can choose the one that will have the best economic return on resources invested. Before you start the market research project that will gather this data, you must consider how the data will be analyzed. Some forms of analysis require rational numbers, that is numbers on a scale that have meaningful intervals and an absolute zero. If the data represented by numbers is on an ordinal scale, the analysis process is seriously and sometimes hopelessly compromised.

Caveat

Another handy use of continuums is in the comparison of two variables within a practice development plan. A good example of this would be when a firm wants to optimize the cost effectiveness of two marketing programs. Within some serious limitations, the 'more marketing is better than less marketing' rule holds true. However, there is also the law of diminishing returns. It is in the firm's economic interest to find the 'sweet spot', the place where, each considering the other, these two marketing programs reach combined optimum economic return. The efficiency gained by optimizing these two programs can translate into a lot of money, but you won't be able to do it unless you design the measurement and feedback components of the programs into them at the beginning. They must be coordinated with each other so that you are comparing similar data within similar time frames. The continuum for each must be compatible with the continuum for the other.

* According to the dictionary, and my old Latin professor, the proper plural of continuum is 'continua'. I'll use 'continuums' as the plural because it is more colloquially acceptable.
** This research would not require asking each and every individual within the population the same questions. We can determine what we need to know with substantial accuracy by using proper research techniques.
 


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