SMART goals for in-house counsel are dumb

I recommend that lawyers set annual objectives, and some of those objectives lend themselves to measurement.  Close four bond issuances; file 18 patents, resolve two-thirds of the EEOC charges within six months, and the like. Measurement, however, runs amok if management forces staff lawyers to conjure up too many goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART). 

SMART goals entice lawyers to manufacture numbers at the expense of quality and homing in on what ought to be done.  “I need to close 31 leases this year, so I’ll shortchange scrutiny on a few, favor some easy (but less profitable) ones, and send the time-consuming strategic one to outside counsel.” 

This makes me think of the Stephen Covey distinction between the urgent and the important.  If metrics-based performance is urgent, because a bonus depends on it, those tasks will squeeze out the important ones that can’t be quantified.

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