Questions to consider when you think you might create a written policy

It falls trippingly from the tongue: “Let’s draft and circulate a policy.” Say, for instance, a policy on when to close matters stored on a matter management system. The fundamental question is whether the effort to draft, communicate, and enforce a policy is justified by the benefits expected to come from having the policy (See my post of June 30, 2007: four steps to solutions of problems.).

Problems abound. It is no easy thing to write a clear policy that governs in a muddy world. Nor is it easy to change people’s behavior to conform to the policy. Even how you communicate changes in policy is prickly. Do you email it around? Post it on the intranet? Mention it once in a staff meeting?

On top of these questions, every change results in unintended consequences (See my post of Aug. 28, 2005: trade offs when actions are taken; Aug. 1, 2006: second-order consequences; Dec. 17, 2006: all practices have pros and cons; July 10, 2007: well-intentioned actions that boomerang.). Finally, each policy is a tiny piranha – one won’t hurt you but a school of them can eat you alive (See my post of Oct. 22, 2006: sclerotic bureaucracy.).

All in all, though, I favor guideline policies in law departments because when promulgated judiciously they boost quality, efficiency, and consistency.

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