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How difficult it is to prove how hard your lawyers are working

General counsel uniformly tell me, “My lawyers are almost all working pretty hard.” How do they know and how can they prove it? Let me offer some strawpersons, in declining order of usefulness, and then torch them.

Time tracking. Few in-house lawyers have to track their time, and the data is not very reliable (IMHO), plus tracking time causes lawyers to break out in hives (See my post of Nov. 22, 2008: time tracking with 16 references.).
Output totals. Anything countable runs into “not all are equal.” A person working on ten contracts in a week may or may not be busier than one who worked on only two contracts that week.

Status reports. These can degenerate into impression-management, emptiness from habit, and even fancifulness (See my post of Sept. 1, 2008: status reports by wiki; Aug. 1, 2006: status reports and their drawbacks; Jan. 13, 2008: report legal issues handled, not time; June 25, 2007: status reports to clients as an aid to setting priorities.).

Client views. No client can assess all that is on and then off the plate of a lawyer. The lawyer generates some work independently, other clients ask for work to be done, and non-lawyers don’t understand how long some tasks take to complete. Complaints by clients about timeliness, which may be symptoms of too much work to do, vary in their credibility.

Time in the office. Sitting at one’s desk is no measure of industriousness. In fact, it might be the opposite.

Height of piles on desk. You’ve got to be kidding!

Throughput measures do not apply to how to quantify advice or otherwise judge lawyer productivity. Yet all is not in vain. When lawyers talk they disclose quite a bit about how hard they work. In the end, good managers listen, review, observe, and pick up feedback to judge the productivity and workload of their reports.

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