A look back 14 years at ten New Year’s resolutions for law departments

In 1998, while a partner at Altman & Weil consulting to law departments as I have done for the years since, I wrote an article about ten 1999 resolutions for general counsel. Now, 14 years later, have those resolutions been acted on and come to pass?

No, since the first four still apply to many general counsel and their law departments.

  1. Experiment with Non-Hourly Billing.
  2. Bid Some Work Out Competitively.
  3. Gather Benchmarking Data.
  4. Evaluate Your Primary Outside Counsel.

The next three have a moth-ball smell, in slightly varying degrees. Pay mechanisms are not within the control of general counsel, client satisfaction seems to have disappeared into the vortex of the recession, and summary reports to fellow executives have never caught on.

  1. Shift to Incentive Pay.
  2. Assess The Satisfaction of Your Clients.
  3. Distribute a Summary Report. “Distribute to senior management a report on the key facts of the law department and what it has accomplished.”

The next two are perennials, also, but the examples given have a charming old-school tone. I have quoted them to convey bygone concerns.

  1. Learn Practical Techniques of Some Software. “You probably have a personal computer in your office, and you probably use email. But have you ever sat down and tried to make use of more than a small fraction of its capabilities? …. Along these lines, you might try out telephone headsets, voice recognition software, or productivity tools like PalmPilots.”
  2. Improve Your Productivity Aids. “[Law departments] do not create form documents, documents annotated with comments, key points to check when an invoice arrives, questions to ask clients about non-disclosure agreements, or a collection of arbitration decisions – they have not organized and created materials that will improve their quality, time, and productivity.”

My tenth suggestion for a new year’s resolution still applies today, but not for three trends that have faded from the lexicon of general counsel (Activity Based Costing, System Dynamics, and Broadbanding).

  1. Learn About A Current Management Trend. “Try to apply to your department what you learn about “Activity Based Costing,” “Knowledge Management,” “Intranets,” “System Dynamics,” “360 Evaluations,” or “Broadbanding.”

The New Year’s resolutions needed today may have moved beyond that set. For example, diversity, global reach, intellectual property, social media, and cloud computing could make some lists. I would still stand by most of the long-ago resolutions as they captured the intractability of a set of fundamental problems.

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