Hong Kong-based Dr Peter Macmillan is the Founder & CEO of Meisterline Analytics, developer of the Meisterline Index™, a unique, science-based lawyer rating service that uses cognitive analysis to measure the expertise of legal specialists. He recently founded Mesterline with an aim to decode (and measure) how legal experts think. Asia Law Portal recently had the opportunity to interview Dr MacMillan about the founding of Meisterline, his own legal background, and the importance of legal expertise. Here’s what he had to say:
What is Meisterline and what inspired its founding?
Meisterline is a boutique research lab dedicated to decoding how legal experts think. We use cognitive analysis as our core methodology, and just recently we launched the Meisterline Index™ which allows lawyers and others to measure the expertise of legal specialists in ways that were not previously possible.
The founding of Meisterline goes back to 2006 when I resigned from my position as Head of Competition Law at an international law firm to study how legal experts think. When you spend a career working with brilliant lawyers, you realise that they have a different way of thinking through issues from how average lawyers do, and I was always fascinated by that.
After I received my PhD and went on a speaking tour to explain what I’d discovered, I quickly understood just how useful my findings could be, both for lawyers wanting to measure their own development as legal experts and for clients needing to pre-qualify outside counsel with reference to objective, quantitative metrics.
I was able to report information that didn’t previously exist, and I knew it would be the perfect complement to traditional lawyer rating services and ranking directories that rely mostly or solely on qualitative research.
What is your background in the law and in the science behind legal expertise?
In 1992 I graduated from university as an economist and lawyer and naturally fell into competition law (antitrust) as a vocation. After working for a number of years with competition authority, I moved into private practice and ultimately became head of competition law at a large law firm in Asia.
Then in December 2006, having just turned 40, I decided to leave the legal practice altogether to take up scholarships at two universities where I could embark on some major empirical studies involving legal experts and ultimately gain my PhD. In the process, I pioneered a new area of scholarship focusing on the cognitive development of legal expertise and wrote the book Unlocking the Secrets of Legal Genius: Measuring Specialist Legal Expertise Through Think-Aloud Verbal Protocol Analysis.
The science behind what we do at Meisterline is both old and new. Our cognitive modelling is based on principles that go back to Medieval times when craft guilds created systems to classify different levels of expertise in ways which have never really been improved upon. This was one of the earliest discoveries I made. We have a surprising amount in common with experts from centuries ago in terms of how our expertise as lawyers actually develops.
The core innovation we’ve introduced has been to add a quantitative dimension based on the latest research by cognitive scientists and the work of coding engineers who’ve helped us develop proprietary algorithms. Which can quantify meaningful metrics of expertise. This includes the Meisterline Index™ which can measure a lawyer’s level of expertise within a range of 0.1 to 9.9, pinpoint their present cognitive abilities, and predict their future developmental trajectory.
You’re based in Hong Kong. Is Meisterline’s focus regional or global?
We’re a small team based primarily in Hong Kong but with a global outlook. Hong Kong has been my home since 2003 so it was natural to set up our research lab here, plus one of our key coding engineers. Who holds a PhD in physics and previously worked for NASA – is also here, so that was also important. Of course, we still need to travel a lot to understand different markets. At present we provide the Meisterline Index™ lawyer-rating service to lawyers and clients in the UK, Canada and Australia. But we’re also working to expand into other areas.
While we still need to localise our measurement methodologies for other jurisdictions, we see many opportunities to do so. In addition to covering the United States, which is a huge market, and smaller places like New Zealand and Singapore, we’re very keen to explore the possibilities in China and India as two major legal markets in the broader Asian region.
What is the future of legal expertise and what should senior legal talent be thinking about their future careers?
Legal expertise will always be a differentiator between lawyers, regardless of developments in Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and the so-called legal tech innovations that will become commonplace in the future. Indeed, I believe that deep legal expertise in human form is likely to become even more valuable as more legal tasks become commoditised and democratised through technological advances.
The development of legal expertise itself is a complex phenomenon. It involves a wide range of variables including natural aptitude, and the availability of increasingly challenging legal work within a specific area of legal practice. Interventions by mentors and champions who can guide younger lawyers as their careers develop.
What we know is that time alone does not make a lawyer an expert, and the work we’re doing at Meisterline and the availability of services like the Meisterline Index™ will hopefully help lawyers and clients understand the expertise development process much better.
Readers are welcome to visit our website meisterline.com (where they can get their legal expertise measured anonymously and for free) and follow us on Twitter @Meisterline_