Every general counsel should stop the law department from doing inane, wasteful procedures

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, in his column for Talent Mgt., Jan. 2008 and 54, points out our bias to add on initiatives. He writes “The recognition and reward systems in most enterprises are geared to acknowledge the doing of something. We get credit for doing something good. We rarely get credit for ceasing to do something bad. Yet, they are two different sides of the same coin.” A general counsel might be reluctant to put an end to a senseless meeting or requirement or style of working because it feels like an admission of error to jettison some long-standing silliness.

It is the rare general counsel who scraps some encrusted practice or procedure (See my post of April 1, 2007: when to stop doing things.) even though the rules and expectations have long gone moldy but still complicated productivity (See my post of March 27, 2005: inventory your management initiatives.). As brevity is the soul of wit, simplicity is the heart of efficiency.

More improvements to e-mail practices

From Hottopic, a publication of ARMA International at 7, come several shrewd pieces of advice about what to do before you hit the “Send” button for an e-mail. (1) Check the recipients of the e-mail to be sure they are the ones you want to write to. (2) Use a meaningful subject line. (3) Match the subject line to what is actually being discussed, which means you should change the subject line when the topic has veered. (4) When you respond to several points in a long message, excerpt just the points being responded to. (5) Keep your signature line simple and without adornment.

The article also suggests that when you send email, limit how often you attach files. Instead, link to the document. They also suggest that you go on a “bacn” diet. Bacn (pronounced bacon) “refers to e-mail that the recipient has subscribed to or agreed to receive, so it is not as bad as spam, but it is e-mail that may not be read quickly, if ever.” We all get on email lists, but we all should prune our bacn.

Service providers for bill and regulation tracking

Benchmark Legal Research LLC has an ad in Inside Counsel, Feb. 2008 at 40. I do not normally highlight individual service providers but the service Benchmark Legal provides was new for me. According to their ad, they track and report on bills and regulations.

Many law departments monitor potential changes in the laws that affect their companies (See my posts of Sept. 5, 2005: Countrywide’s efforts to track such developments; and March 26, 2007: legislative and regulatory changes that affect employee benefit programs.). Here is yet another symbiotic vendor, part of the sprawling cottage industry that serves law departments.

Try an alternate reality game (ARG) at your next lawyers’ retreat

Alternate reality games (ARGs) are immersive, massively multiplayer experiences that unfold for the participants over days, weeks or months (See my post of Nov. 18, 2007: online gaming worlds as a way to train in-house counsel.). As described in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 86, at 29, an ARG designer, knows as a “puppet master,” distributes information and material, such as to the lawyers of a law department at an offsite. The information might pertain to the department’s use of outside counsel over the past several years; the goal of the ARG might be to think through the consequences of drastically reducing the number of law firms retained by the department.

Before the offsite and during it the lawyers would “use wikis, social networking sites, chat rooms, and blogs to analyze clues, debate interpretations, devise mission strategies, predict game events, and ultimately build a common narrative.” In other words, through the life-like simulation they would learn.

As extolled by the author, Jane McGonigal, collaboration in such an effort teaches 10 collective-intelligence competencies. “These include cooperation radar, accurately identifying the very best collaborators for a given task, and protovation, the ability to rapidly prototype test experimental solutions.” Learn more about the remaining eight competencies at the website of McGonigal and why ARGs will supplant some meetings and planning processes.

Exercise jogs a lawyer’s brain

To upgrade the mental capabilities of in-house counsel, encourage them to sweat. A fast-beating heart is a high RPM brain. Exercise “improves the blood’s access to specific brain regions and stimulates learning cells to make brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which acts like cerebral Miracle-Gro for neurons.” Personally, I sprinkle BDNF liberally on my granola each morning. More about the link between physical and mental fitness comes from the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 86, at 22-23.

Not to sweat the details, but “You learn 20% faster immediately after exercise than after sitting still.” Among the ideas in the article are to have treadmills installed in offices and to encourage employees to take breaks and use them. As a side benefit exercise reduces both stress (See my post of April 16, 2007: benefits of a corporate health center.) and waist size.

Workouts and work fit together nicely. Now it smartly dawns on me why I read on my daily stint on the Stairmaster. For lawyers, let’s dub it the LAWcker room effect.

Practice area benchmarks for seven practices

We lack reliable benchmark metrics for practice areas of law departments (See my posts of July 20, 2005 and May 28, 2005 on this missing set of metrics.). A few, though, have appeared on this blog.

Contracts (See my post of Jan. 6, 2006: contracts handled per commercial lawyer.);

Corporate secretary (See my post of Feb. 4, 2008: cost per entity maintained.);

Litigation (See my posts of Jan. 25, 2006: lawsuits pending; May 31, 2005: Canadian caseloads per litigator; June 15, 2006: claims per lawsuit; Nov. 22, 2007: litigation loads.);

Intellectual property (See my posts of Aug. 3, 2005 and July 18, 2006 on 27 metrics for patents; Dec. 21, 2005: per R&D spend; and April 9, 2006: trademarks.);

HR/employment (See my posts of Jan. 3, 2006: EEOC charges; June 7, 2006: lawyers per 1,000 employees; Jan. 6, 2006: employment.);

International mergers and acquisitions (See my posts of Dec. 22, 2005: deals per lawyer; March 19, 2006: foreign to domestic revenue); and

M&A (See my post of March 24, 2005: deal value per lawyer.).

Still incognito are metrics that suggest the appropriate staff for environmental work, antitrust and import/export. At some point these, too, as well as other practice group metrics, will be unmasked (See my post of April 7, 2006 on international lawyers in the US; and Dec. 22, 2005 on compliance spend compared to legal spend.).

Other posts related to this topic have been scattered throughout (See my posts of May 16, 2007: create an index of change; and Sept. 3, 2006: a retrospective on this topic.). Even posts on paralegals by practice area (See my posts of Dec. 22, 2006 and March 12, 2006.)

How much time do in-house attorneys waste in a typical day?

The Gallup Organization conducted a large survey in August, 2007, which American Magazine thereafter compiled. Parts of that compilation are in the business section of the NY Times, Feb. 23, 2008. “When asked how much time their colleagues waste during the day, the mean number reported was 90 minutes. When asked how much time they waste, respondents said one hour.”

Those are disturbing estimates if anything close to them were to be uncovered in law departments. What “wasted time” is was not defined, but I will treat it like obscenity: we all are sure we know it when we see it. I assume it does not refer to administrative obligations of corporate attorneys since recruiting, reviewing bills, preparing status reports and similar tasks are part of the job. Wasted time means goofing off, slacking, completely unproductive time (See my post of Nov. 9, 2006: skiving at work.).

Data is nonexistent on wasted time by in-house lawyers, perhaps because it would be a waste of time to ask them. If, however, the Gallup data were true for them, we will need to redefine one very useful metric. No longer will we refer to fully-loaded costs per lawyer hour. Instead, we will need fully-loaded costs per non-wasted lawyer hour. To lop off one hour of productive time a day from the standard annual estimate of 1,850 hours of time deemed chargeable (See my post of May 16, 2006: what we mean by “chargeable.”), drives up the average cost to a company significantly.

Thoughts on this blog’s third anniversary

Hold the confetti, but do drop me a line. Three years ago, on Feb. 20, 2005, Law Department Management made its debut. Three years on, this blog offers 3,049 posts. In a Word file the blizzard runs over 1,000 pages. As on each anniversary, the outpouring makes me reflect (See my post of Jan. 4, 2008: retrospective thoughts on this weblog.).

This past year my posts much more frequently referred back to related posts on a topic (See my post of Jan.18, 2008 #2: more than 3,500 back references.). Given the bulk of previous writings, it is rare for me to write something that does not resonate with an earlier entry. It is unclear to me, however, how many readers go to find prior posts.

As a related step, I have pulled together many more embedded metaposts and now have put more than 50 of them on Law Department Management. By my rule, an embedded metapost collects five or more posts on a topic. Gradually I am integrating, systematizing, and learning this large subject area.

In a third development this year, my compulsion to cover only new topics – never repeat the core idea of a prior post! – has been weakening. After all, even if a second or third post comments on yet another convergence project, the size of the law department differs, or the industry, or the time period during which the project took place.

My practice has also begun to shift toward inserting documents, specifically my recent articles. I can upload a PDF file and hypertext to it. Whether readers find those articles useful is unknown; as I have often muttered, nearly all of my efforts are met with one hand clapping.

It has proven useful during the past year for me to send blog posts to those who are cited and to ask them to comment. I intend to do so more often. Additionally, several co-posters have joined me, and Paul Roy has become a regular contributor of expertise.

This blog captivates me and I look forward eagerly to 2008.

Context-specific data from the internet to supplement information in matter management systems

Joe Bookman, the founder of PinHawk, offers an intriguing prediction in Law Tech. News, Feb. 2008, at 30. Bookman foresees that over the next year or so law-department matter-management systems will start to integrate with internet monitoring software. For example, when an in-house lawyer clicks on a matter, the monitoring software will automatically bring up any recent online references to that matter. Or, when the lawyer clicks on the name of a law firm retained by the law department, the monitoring software will display comments about the firm from the blogosphere or other online sources (See my post of on social networks.).

Such professional mashups (See my post of Nov. 24, 2007: artiblogs.), combining law-department information and supplementary information online, has no end of applications.

Analytical tools to help customize legal fees for clients

A development in the future, according to Law Tech. News, Feb. 2008, at 30, will be “business intelligence … used to develop pricing and alternative fees” (See my posts of Jan. 25, 2007: business intelligence and data mining; May 17, 2006: a definition of it; and March 23, 2006: compared to knowledge management software.). The consultant who makes this prediction, Larry Bodine, cites as an example Bryan Cave, which has used software from Redwood Analytics to customize its fees and help clients better understand what they get for their money.

The particular instance he cited was a real estate lawyer who used software’s modeling tools for pricing and staffing, as well as historical data of the firm, to see if Bryan Cave could charge real estate clients based on the square footage of their projects. “He found that while there was risk of under-pricing [the fees charged for work on] large buildings, the deal volume in small buildings offset the risk, making per-square-foot pricing possible.” This is a bellwether for how law firms can creatively and effectively price their services.