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My worry at the core of the core-team concept

To push your primary law firms to assign a handful of lawyers to handle a large portion of your work impresses me as a sound practice. I refer to those lawyers as the core team (See my posts of Aug.28, 2006: 7 references cited; and May 2, 2007.) and submit that the benefits to the law department are the familiarity of the team members with the company, their dedication to better service because they feel more involved, and the greater value they because of both reasons. I published an article on core teams for matters handled by law firms.

Troubling me, however, is the worry that billable hours by core-team members on your matters expand to fill the available time. In other words, if you are part of a core team on a large matter and you haven’t been assigned to matters, won’t you somehow find a way to reach your quota of billable hours? Won’t you fill your day, every day, with activities that you record in the time and billing system – but does the client obtain commensurate value for those activities?

This fundamental downside of core teams is that in the valleys of work, the billable hours keep piling up. No, this pattern isn’t inevitable, but it is likely. One way to ameliorate this concern is to obtain from the law firm data on what percentage of each core member’s time was billed to you during the month. Lawyers busy on matters of other clients are less susceptible to bill padding (See my post of Oct. 20, 2005: ask for data on total hours billed by key lawyers.).

Since my first compilation of posts on core teams in law firms, this blog has amassed a number of others on the topic. A handful notice the topic of practice-group management by law firms (See my posts of July 19, 2007: practice-group management in law firms; and Nov. 11, 2007 and Sept. 17, 2006: roles of client-service teams.).

Other posts move toward economics (See my posts of May 23, 2007: blended rates for teams; June 27, 2007: Pareto’s Law and team billings; Dec. 17, 2007: the effects on team size of rate freezes; Feb. 4, 2007: a heavy-handed method to enforce; and Jan. 23, 2008: deep discounts on non-core members.).

And, as usual, some hard-to-classify posts appear (See my posts of Nov. 22, 2007: data on the opposite of core teams; Aug. 4, 2007: presentations by the core team during the selection process; and Nov. 6, 2007: concentration of time by firm timekeepers.).