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Difficulties with Evaluating Outside Counsel

It’s just not caught on, the admirable notion of evaluating outside law firms.  It seems very worthwhile, certainly to consultants, to formally assess the performance of law firms, but the law departments of our country have never acquired the taste. 

There are several reasons for the reluctance.  Often, a particular law firm is only used by one lawyer, so no collective evaluation is possible.  Second, law firms do not stay the same.  Associates come and go; offices open and close; partners move into different areas.  What’s the use of evaluating a moving target?  Third, some of the evaluators do not use another law firm against which they can make a comparison of performance.

Finally, even if a law department perseveres, it must still act on the evaluations for the effort to have been worthwhile.  We all know how difficult it is to convey critical evaluations, and this drawback dogs evaluations.  My hunch is also that law departments are unwilling to put candid comments in writing, let alone in a database, lest its secrets somehow slip out and cause embarrassment.