Multiple facets of in-house decisions

William Bertrand, the general counsel of MedImmune, recalled a comment: “Out of the 100 decisions you make each week, maybe 20 are important. The other 80 need to be made,” in GC Mid-Atlantic, May 2006 at 6. The remark set me thinking, in part because the highest compliment is that an in-house lawyer makes good decisions. Even so, decisions in law departments turn out to be a complicated topic that raises more questions than answers (See my post of April 17, 2006 about decision tools.).

What is a decision? Every cognitive act is a decision. Which task to start with on the to-do list; whether to answer the call or let it go to voice mail; what word to write – all are lawyers’ decisions.

How many decisions does each lawyer in a department make in a day? The tally must be in the thousands, but the number depends on how finely you define “decision.”

How well are decisions made? This touches on whether decisions are made on time (“decision cycle-time”), based on appropriate information, and with logical steps. Some law departments use the acronym RAA: Responsible, Accountable and Authorized to untangle decision-making roles. Outcomes are not solely the result of decisions (See my post of May 14, 2006 on the Fundamental Attribution Error; and of April 12, 2006 on risk aversion and personality styles.). Productivity and quality are not of the same measure (See my post of Nov. 25, 2005 and Aug. 8, 2006 with their discussions of “productivity.”). Productivity is the number of decisions made per time interval; quality is ineffable.

How empowered are people to make decisions? Do more senior lawyers make more decisions, or qualitatively different kinds of decisions, or quicker decisions?

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