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An alternative to department-wide, big and formal initiatives to give feedback to law firms

Consultants love to recommend comprehensive processes through which law departments tell their key law firms how the firms are doing. In an ideal world, such full-scale evaluations need training, software, databases, forms, number crunching, meetings, roll-out plans, post-mortems, interviews, and complicated activities galore. Consultants thrive on all that hustle.

The trouble is, the value produced for the department too often falls far short of the investment. For all kinds of reasons, all that energy expended leads to tired results. Law firms don’t improve enough to justify the constant reminders, delay, time and money. The idea of law firm evaluations has obvious, intuitive appeal; execution torpedoes it.

So, let me propose a modest alternative.

Have each lawyer who manages one or more law firms for significant fees – perhaps $100,000, or $500,000 for litigation managers? – choose one of the firms each quarter and tell them three things to improve (backed up by an actual instance) and three things they do well. Second, ask for two things the law department should do better. Key firms; key feedback.

That’s all: a periodic sharing with key firms on specific observations. No departmental paroxysms of collected and analyzed evaluation forms; no high pressure meetings with relationship partners plus managing partners; no handwringing about conflicting recommendations of change. It is what it is but the feedback by those who know the most will be taken seriously by the law firm. This approach sharply reduces the investment, directs the feedback with more focus, and holds promise of more specific improvements by firms.