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Four crucial but ill-defined words often used by general counsel: complexity, risk, quality, and value

In his book, David Warsh, The Idea of Economic Complexity (Penguin Books, 1984) set me to thinking about omnipresent words managers in legal departments toss off that, curiously, lack clear definitions. Four of those vital but vague words include complexity, risk, quality, and value. Like “wicked problems” (See my post of May 28, 2009: definition of wicked problems.) and intractable managerial challenges, these value-based, often subjective words will always be murky (See my post of Sept. 9, 2008: intractable problem of clients’ appropriate use of in-house lawyers; and June 24, 2007: intractable of career paths.). No one will ever conclusively define these terms at an operational level.

As to complexity, Warsh bases economic complexity on the number of different jobs in an economy and the manner of their interdependence. Borrowing his construct, the legal complexity of a matter may depend on the number of different legal issues and risks involved and the degree of interdependence among those issues and risks (See my post of Dec. 27, 2008: complexity of legal practice with 20 references.).

Legal risk has to do with uncertainty about what might go wrong that better legal counsel might have avoided (See my post of Aug. 17, 2009: controlling legal risks with 13 references and 2 metaposts.).

Quality is in the eye of the beholder and it is always shadowed by cost. As a rule, the more you pay the better the quality of the service you receive (See my post of April 9, 2009: law firm quality with 25 references.).

Value compares cost to worth of a service, as compared to quality, which compares the service to some ineffable notion of high-level service (See my post of Aug. 21, 2009: value compared to fees paid with 22 references.).

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