Trends that general counsel spot and some risks associated with bandwagons

The corner offices of law departments are hardly immune to trends. Fashionable management ideas such as competitive bids, bill auditing, convergence, offshoring and global spread of offices deluge general counsel (See my post of May 14, 2005: Bain survey of management tools; June 9, 2007: later Bain survey; Nov. 20, 2007: Bain management practices; April 14, 2005: 18 common tools of general counsel; May 14, 2005: wannabe new ideas; Aug. 22, 2006: observations, trends and predictions; and Feb. 20, 2005: trends in law departments.).

Management trends overlap with best practices, in that both imply a spreading recognition of the validity of some management initiative, such as matrix reporting, mentoring, e-billing systems, or partnering with key law firms. I have picked at trends and best practices repeatedly so I read with interest a sidebar in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol., Vol. 86, Dec. 2008 at 74.

The sidebar pithily describes the underlying dynamic of the “pathology of management fads.” It highlights that “the label used to describe a trend may get stretched far beyond its original meaning.” Think of “partnering” or “preferred law firms” as au courant ideas so baggy they fit almost anything. Another point made is that when consultants – Rees Morrison, look in a mirror – codify some practice simply to explain the phenomenon, they further validate it. I write about expert systems, for example, and to that very small degree they become more legitimate.

Third, “everyone glosses over the difficulties of integration and implementation.” No worthwhile practice is plug-and-play: “Hey, this week lets do knowledge management!” Finally, “embracing a trend often precludes careful examination of the pros and cons of the specific choices made by a single company in a particular context.” Unless you are huge and global, don’t blithely say, “If GE did an online auction for legal services, here we go!”

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