I have been compiling a guide to law department benchmarks. While researching it, I realized that this blog has hundreds of metrics, but only some of them fall into a category most general counsel would call benchmarks. They would define benchmarks as commonly-accepted metrics of law department performance. Not that the particular metrics produced are granted gospel status, but the way to calculate them is and so is their significance. So no one says that four lawyers per billion is right; everyone agrees that lawyers divided by billions of revenue ranks among the most important benchmark calculations and metrics.
Less well-known are benchmarks that compare the performance figures of law departments on a selectively acknowledged basis. For example, I am completing a benchmark study for leading trademark holders. Thousand active marks per full-time-equivalent trademark lawyer tells those experts quite a lot, but as an esoteric figure it offers little to general counsel.
Some numbers particular legal departments track, but their general counsel do not see it worthwhile to try to obtain similar numbers from other law departments. They may feel some comparative metric would be fine but far too hard to define and collect. Consider percentage of contracts reviewed. A general counsel can tally that number for herself, but to get methodological reliability and persuade a sufficient number of other general counsel to gather it would likely be too painful for the insights obtained.
Finally, sometimes chief legal officers compile numbers for ad hoc purposes. The CFO wants to know how many acquisitions we worked on last year that had between $30 and $100 million in potential purchase price? These kinds of numbers are descriptive. Benchmarks are proscriptive and evaluative.