Part XXII of a collection of embedded metaposts

Here are the most recent embedded metaposts with URL links (See my post of Dec. 16, 2008: Part XXI.), each of which shows the number of references cited within them.

  1. Beauty contests (See my post of Dec. 21, 2008: beauty contests with 8 references cited.).

  2. Bill auditors (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: bill auditors with 15 references.).

  3. Change management (See my post of Dec. 21, 2008: change management with 16 references cited.).

  4. Complexity, legal (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: complexity of legal practice with 20 references.).

  5. Convergence 2 (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: additional posts on convergence with 11 references.).

  6. Discounts (2) (See my post of Jan. 21, 2008: 10 more posts with variations on discounts.).

  7. Discounts (3) (See my post of Dec. 26, 2008: third metapost on discounts, with 12 references.).

  8. Settlements (See my post of Dec. 17, 2008: settlements with 26 references cited.).

  9. Small law departments (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: small departments with 7 references cited.).

  10. Timekeepers (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: timekeepers with 18 references.).

Rees Morrison’s Morsels #87 – additions to earlier posts

The difference between a business plan and a strategic plan. A session promoted at an upcoming conference about business plans for law departments suggests that a business plan aligns with the company’s goals for the year and describes the tactics for how it will meet those goals. A strategic plan has a multi-year time horizon and is more visionary. A business plan is to a strategic plan as management is to leadership (See my post of June 25, 2008: strategic plan with 10 references.).

“Subscribe to listservs,” to hear about management techniques. J. Martin Acevedo, general counsel of Companions & Homemakers, recommends listservs in ACC Docket, Vol. 26, Nov. 2008 at 20. According to its website, the Association of Corporate Counsel maintains listservs for Chief Legal Officers, Law Department Executive Leaders, Pro Bono, and Diversity. Are readers aware of other listservs that contribute to law department management?

Statistics about this blog. I have 69 subscribers under BlogLines
Wired GC has 7. BlogPulse tells me that on the dates they track I averaged about 0.00015 percent of all blog posts! Single-handedly! (actually, I type with both hands)
(See my post of Sept. 25, 2008: self-referential posts about this blog, with 41 references.).

Online auction by Intel to offshore for patent applications. Corp. Counsel, Dec. 22, 2008 (David Hechler) states that “a couple of years ago” Intel Corp. put bundles of patent applications up for bid in an online auction. They selected a firm in Australia and a firm in India through the process (See my post of July 30, 2005: electronic auctions have not caught on; and Sept. 4, 2005: GE’s online Dutch auction.).

If “small” is a law department of 1-5 lawyers, what is a “medium” department?

The controversy has been quelled: the top of the small law department ranges is exactly five lawyers, no more, no less (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: arguments and metrics for that conclusion regarding “small”.). Next, let us solemnly affirm that between 6 and 12 lawyers constitutes a “medium” size department.

That law departments with more than 12 lawyers should be deemed “large” might strike many people as not so prepossessing, but that category might account for a third of the lawyers employed in the United States (See my post of Dec. 23, 2008: 61% of one group of surveyed in-house lawyers served companies that reported less than $1 billion of revenue.).

With a consensus on size adjectives, surveys and journalists would have comparability. Most benchmarkers create groupings after examining the number and size of the participants they attracted. The ranges vary from year to year because the analysts juggle the groupings so that each has in it a reasonable number of law departments. Journalists use small, medium, and large very loosely, often based on the companies in the region they cover. A consistent terminology to describe legal teams by number of lawyers would help greatly.

Billable hour requirements at firms ought to raise hackles on in-house counsels’ necks

Nothing good for general counsel can come from retained firms that set billable hour minimums (See my post of Nov. 8, 2005: Altria and its 200-hour monthly maximum; Oct. 20, 2005: ask for total hours billed in a month by key lawyers; June 22, 2008: in the office 60 hours to bill 40; Aug. 22, 2006: law firms that impose billable hour requirements; Oct. 25, 2007: abusive billing across multiple matters; Dec. 14, 2008: three tiers of billable hours; and April 26, 2006: pick busy lawyers if you want efficiency.).

At the least, know which of your firms set billing bars for their lawyers. Further, if possible test whether the number of hours recorded by firms on similar matters differ statistically according to whether the firms set bars or don’t.

Not a small point to have a consensus definition for a “small” law departments

General counsel, consultants, vendors and others who swim in the law department pool would be better off if there were a generally-used definition of small law departments. Herewith are some of my thoughts on this small step toward standards.

As a starting point, I would argue that number of lawyers stands as the best basis for categorization. Number of total legal staff could serve, but some departments have related functions, like contract administration or claims and their staff of mostly non-lawyers would skew the use of it because of the variability. Also, one of the redoubtable metrics is the ratio of lawyers to non-lawyers, at about one to one, so the lawyer part of that equation speaks for most of the non-lawyer personnel.

To speak of the total spend of law departments won’t work because few law departments disclose the data and outside spend can vary significantly from year to year. Inside spend varies according to cost of living influences. Nor do structural components such as the number of offices create a meaningful distinction.

Law department observers should stick with numbers of lawyers to decide on size brackets. My recommendation is five or fewer lawyers constitutes a “small law department” (See my post of Feb. 7, 2007: survey of several hundred law departments discloses that 80 percent of respondents were in departments of five or fewer lawyers — one third of them were solo.).

Most US law departments are small (See my post of Feb. 15, 2006: six and the single-lawyer department; Feb. 11, 2007: ACC data that 80% of the departments are five lawyers or fewer; May 18, 2007: small law departments hire differently; May 23, 2008: small departments can’t isolate core competencies as easily; and Dec. 5, 2007: some of the downsides of being in small department.). “According to the American Corporate Counsel Association, over 20 percent of in-house counsel are their clients’ sole in-house practitioner; departments of 2 to 5 attorneys comprise about 38 percent; nearly 25 percent represent organizations employing 6 to 20 in-house counsel; 15 percent practice in departments of 21+ attorneys” (See my post of Feb. 9, 2008: ACC data.).

Full-page ad by Chevron’s Law Function honors one of its lawyers for contributions outside the department

An entire page in the American Lawyer commands a hefty tab, but there it is on page 12” “The Chevron Law Function is pleased to present the first annual William T. Coleman Award to José “Jay” Layug.” (I think that William T. Coleman was the fourth United States Secretary of Transportation, serving from March 7, 1975 to January 20, 1977, and the second African American to serve in the Cabinet.)

Below the smiling picture of Mr. Layug is an explanation of the award and a description of his “service to the legal profession beyond his or her Chevron-related responsibilities.”

Mr. Layug “serves as an unpaid adjunct professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, regularly delivers lectures to government and non-government lawyers, and has been a tireless provider of pro bono representation for a number of indigent groups in the Philippines.”

Disappointment over the benefits hoped for from convergence

“Less than three-fourths of in-house counsel involved in convergence (68%) state that the strategy met their expectations, with a significant minority stating that the process did not meet expectations (25%), and a much smaller number stating that it exceeded expectations.” The quote comes from the 2008 ACC/Serengeti Managing Outside Counsel Survey, reported in ACC Docket, Vol. 26, Nov. 2008, at 14. For more information, write Rob Thomas at Serengeti.

We can’t know whether convergence expectations are unrealistic –“We should save 25% of our outside spend!!” – or whether they were realistic and the fees did not decrease much. Or perhaps other expectations than cost savings were disappointed, such as closer partnering with the firms or less administrative effort on invoices. Perhaps the convergence process took too much time, snubbed too many firms, or cost too much in consultancy fees. It might even be that not enough time has passed for the full benefits to accrue. In any case, the bloom is off the rose

Earlier, I collected my posts on convergence (See my post of Feb. 16, 2008: convergence with 26 references.). Eleven more posts have followed that compilation (See my post of March 25, 2008: 7 steps in a convergence project; April 4, 2008: law firms “fired” through convergence; May 5, 2008: NEC’s extreme convergence; May 7, 2008: Union Pacific’s process; June 10, 2008: Serengeti survey on percent using the process; July 28, 2008: Linde Group shrinkage of firms used; Aug. 5, 2008: GE’s reduction of law firms it uses; Oct. 22, 2008 *2: a dozen arguments in favor of convergence; Oct. 19, 2008: a dozen arguments in opposition to convergence; Nov. 21, 2008 *2: keep the same average firm size; and Dec. 16, 2008 *4: what is predicted by 2013.).

The “burden of knowledge” on lawyers as the law accumulates and complicates

To grapple with “legal complexity” is not for the simple minded (See my post of May 15, 2005: complexity of legal services generally; and June 28, 2005: legal complexity.), so a small item intrigued me. Inventors, it said, require ever-increasing effort to absorb what is known and go beyond that prerequisite base of knowledge. The item, in the Atlantic, Vol. 302, Dec. 2008, at 21, says that the “burden of knowledge” means that “aspiring innovators are going to school longer, specializing more, and relying more heavily on collaboration.” Does a comparable weight fall on lawyers, burdened by the accumulating weight of all the decisions, scholarly articles, regulations, statutes, practice observations, and presentations?

Everyone assumes complexity in the practice of large-company law has increased (See my post of Dec. 6, 2007: ways in-house lawyers cope with complexity; and Nov. 24, 2007: pressures on in-house counsel include complexity.).

Posts on this blog have here and there considered complexity in various practice areas (See my post of Sept. 5, 2007: contracts and complexity; June 25, 2007: index of contract complexity; Nov. 22, 2007: complexity scale for litigation; March 13, 2007: measure litigation complexity; Aug. 27, 2005: litigation complexity; April 22, 2008: example of complex litigation; April 19, 2006 # 1: federal employment regulations; April 30, 2006: #1: tax complexity; Feb. 16, 2006: tax issue complexity; and Jan. 4, 2008: UK FSA rule book.). The difficulty of defining complexity in areas of law overlaps the difficulty in defining benchmarks for practitioners in areas of law.

Broader considerations of complexity also appear on this blog (See my post of Nov. 11, 2007: complexity science; Feb. 18, 2006 #3: complexity science; Jan. 1, 2008: we simplify complex ideas; Sept. 5, 2007: agent-based computer models; Jan. 1, 2008: cartography of law departments; and Sept. 9, 2008: rates of outside counsel rise with complexity of services rendered.).

Bill auditors who pore over invoices for compliance and saving

A gaggle of companies offer to review bills of law firms (See my post of Dec. 4, 2006: cottage industry of legal bill auditors; Dec. 16, 2007 #2: a law firm that reviews bills; Feb. 20, 2007: John Toothman; and April 16, 2007: Stuart Maue and huge amounts audited.).

Generally, I have disparaged bill audits by third parties (See my post of Dec. 3, 2006: instigates adversarial attitude; Oct. 24, 2007: criticism of the practice; May 4, 2005: bad blood between carriers and insurance defense firms; and Nov. 14, 2005: audits not being “strategically sound”.).

Legal departments, however, continue to find value in outsiders poring over bills of law firms (See my post of Jan. 20, 2006: a fee audit’s findings; Jan. 10, 2006: a bill auditor of Bayer and challenges to fees; Oct. 1, 2005: early adopters may have benefited more than laggards; May 1, 2005: ROI from Proprietary Bill Review Services; Aug. 26, 2005: $3.3 million of bills reviewed per day; April 16, 2007: huge volume of bills audited by third-party bill reviewer; and Nov. 25, 2006 about OxyContin.).

Timekeepers everywhere, and some concerns about that fact by general counsel

Most of the observations on this blog about timekeepers have to do with too many timekeepers billing on matters (See my post of June 27, 2007: Pareto’s law and the number of timekeepers on matters; Nov. 8, 2005: number of timekeepers on a matter; March 28, 2005: rule of thumb of one lawyer and one paralegal on a matter; Nov. 15, 2005: 17 timekeepers per law firm in claims work; Sept. 5, 2005: Citigroup’s views; Nov. 22, 2007: number of timekeepers for a financial institution; and Nov. 15, 2005: during a year AIG used 34,000 timekeepers on claims.).

One reason for this profusion is that many roles have evolved to fit specialized needs or cost constraints (See my post of Jan. 19, 2008: vast array of other timekeepers; June 24, 2007: project managers in law firms; and Oct. 21, 2005: litigation support consultants; June 27, 2007: timekeepers other than partners; Feb. 4, 2007: partner time to other timekeepers’ time;

Timekeepers who record small numbers of hours on bills are a peeve (See my post of Jan. 21, 2008: those who bill short time periods on matters; Sept. 4, 2005: quick billers; Nov. 8, 2005: drive-by billers; and Nov. 6, 2007: concentration of time by firm timekeepers.).

Other posts address administrative issues (See my post of Feb. 21, 2007: difficult to maintain rates in e-billing systems; and Oct. 15, 2007: e-billing checks timekeepers

Posts about core staff also refer to the notion of a small set of timekeepers who should account for most of the billing. Other posts discuss large discounts for supernumeraries (See my post of Aug. 8, 2006: core staff with 6 references.).