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Six basic steps based on talent for a general counsel to improve departmental productivity

Although chary of broad-brush topics, I still try constantly to pull together material from this sprawling blog. So, here are six steps that a general counsel should take to ratchet up lawyer productivity in his or her department.

But first, the term “productivity.” Productivity for a law department means doing things efficiently – getting the most output from a general counsel’s resources. Productivity for a law department is only partly measurable as units of output per period of time (See my post of Nov. 23, 2008: how hard it is to prove how hard internal lawyers are working.). The raw material may be available – matters handled and hours worked – but the productivity equation remains unsolved. Macroeconomists use the term “total factor productivity,” which is the sum output of a country’s capital and labor. Law departments have some capital investments, but mostly consist of labor, professional’s brains working hard.

Hire good lawyers. The essential starting point for any general counsel is to hire (or inherit) intelligent, experienced, engaged, collaborative, and hard-working lawyers. Everything to do with this — talent management — conduces to higher productivity (See my post of Sept. 22, 2009: ways to find lawyers for openings other than search firms with 17 references and 1 metapost; and Sept. 16, 2008: search firms with 12 references.).

Keep your good lawyers
. Talent combined with tenure boosts productivity (See my post of March 8, 2009: attrition in law departments, with 16 references and one metapost; and July 29, 2007: high potentials with 10 references.).

Train your lawyers. Everyone improves with training (See my post of May 25, 2008: CLE with 30 references; and Sept. 1, 2008: learning methods with 12 references.).

Direct work appropriately to your lawyers. Clean lines of responsibility, manageable workloads, a match between ability and the complexity of matter, nimble decision-making, a balance between micromanaging and abdicating – all these components build productivity (See my post of March 13, 2007: complexity with 4 references; and Dec. 27, 2008: complexity of legal practice with 20 references.).

Create incentives for your lawyers to be productive. Set goals for your lawyers and reward them for effort and accomplishment (See my post of June 30, 2007: bonuses with 8 references; and May 4, 2009: in-house counsel career paths with 15 references.).

Support your lawyers. This means not with capable support staff but also with facilities and evident teamwork (See my post of Aug. 28, 2008: delegation in a law department with 14 references; and April 5, 2009: teamwork and collaboration internally with 16 references.).

Productivity follows if you do well on these six talent-maximizing steps, and far more predictably than if you rely on illusory standardized processes, knowledge management or technology.

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