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Some arguments for why there are no best practices

This idée fixe of mine has roots far back in this blog. A sample of the reasons why I doubt the existence of “best practices” gives me an opportunity to rehearse some of my arguments.

A pattern of more and more law departments doing something hardly proves that the something is optimal (See my post of March 16, 2009: a best practice is not necessarily a trend.).

The circumstances of each law department differ, significantly, so force-fitting something that flourished at a different department may fail (See my post of Nov. 25, 2009: path dependency limits successful imitation of a practice.).

We have more asserted claims than proven confirmations regarding best practices, more anecdotal, instrumental or ideological support than empirical evidence (See my post of Jan. 5, 2010: little evidence of evidence-based management.).

We focus almost entirely on “successes” and leave unnoticed the initiatives that did poorly. How can you claim a best practice if you can’t address situations of lackluster effect or worse (See my post of Nov. 9, 2010: there are still mistaken practices and we can learn and improve.)?

Cover-story examples become enshrined as myths and smoothed on panels so much they take on an aura of inevitability, cinch of implementation, and “bestness” (See my post of Jan. 4, 2011: critical history compared to popular myths.).

Law department management is complicated and a priori one would surmise that lots of pieces would need to be put together to excel at anything (See my post of July 6, 2011: 500 hammers argue against best practices.). The odds of duplication are low.

Economic history offers many examples of multiple solutions vying for acceptance (See my post of July 8, 2011: toolbox management thrives on lots of choices.). Even when competition in the market winnows down the lot, it rarely goes to one choice and even then the choice keeps evolving.

All knowledge is socially constructed so what we think we understand about how best to manage law departments is little more than folk wisdom, prejudices, and unexamined mental habits and constructs (See my post of Sept. 22, 2008: postmodern critiques of best practices.). Ideologies and values lurk behind all “best practices.”

Best practices in law departments declare universal applications, whereas my sense of things is that they are particularistic: we can do no better than identify a solid practice at a given time for a specific context.

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One response to “Some arguments for why there are no best practices”

  1. Rees,
    I do not agree 100% with your views/ I encourage experimentation and some of it consists of just copying something [call it best practice or not] and putting it to work in another organization. Creativity normally stems from somebody’s best practices: Everything is a Remix –