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Maybe law departments should abandon formal evaluations of law firms

Perhaps formal evaluations of outside counsel are lemons not worth the squeeze, lots of work, hard to do, a sour taste afterwards. After all, a lawyer who does not like the performance of a firm can stop giving it work. Why bother with the administrivia of written appraisals (See my post of April 15, 2009: six attributes to assess external counsel.)?

In theory, if evaluations accumulate suggestions for how a law firm can improve its performance, and if a meeting with that firm’s responsible partner conveys those opportunities directly, there could be a benefit from the formal effort. In practice, both “ifs” are problematic; comments are meager, meetings never take place, law firms suffer turnover, honest criticisms are seldom delivered.

In theory, evaluations of outside counsel should help in-house attorneys manage them better. In practice, who remembers comments, especially those made by other lawyers?

In theory, evaluators’ comment candidly when they submit ratings. In practice, honesty is hard, perhaps because it sometimes implicates your own management abilities (See my post of March 8, 2009: bill write offs criticize the lawyer who takes them.).

In theory, like post mortems, evaluations allow time for measured reflection and thought. In practice, life is rushed and it is hard for lawyers to reflect back objectively and retrieve ideas.

I am skeptical about the net worth of law firm evaluations (See my post of Nov. 16, 2005: evaluations of law firms with 9 references.). The cons outweigh the pros.