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Thoughts on benchmarking other than about individual metrics

This blog has at least a dozen posts on specific benchmarks for law departments. I will eventually compile and publish that metapost. Meanwhile, other aspects of benchmarks – aside from specific metrics – deserve mention.

A general counsel ought to give thought how best to present benchmark data to senior executives (See my post of March 19, 2005: metrics to defend, not to change; Oct. 1, 2006: visual display of quantitative data; and May 8, 2008: online tool to help graphically present data.).

Processes may be more important to learn about than metrics, but they are trickier to study (See my posts of May 18, 2008: harder to do; May 14, 2005; and Oct. 18, 2005: metrics, practices or both; Nov. 2, 2006: process improvement ratios; Feb. 4, 2008: visits to other departments; and Jan. 13, 2008: benchmarking bad practices.).

Very little data turned in for a benchmarking survey is sensitive, especially if provided to a reputable survey firm (See my posts of April 15, 2007: concerns about disclosing data; Oct. 25, 2006: anti-trust concerns; and Sept. 13, 2006: aggregate outside counsel spend is not sensitive.). What can your arch-rival do to you if it knows your outside counsel spending last year?

It is correct that close comparability of law departments cannot be found in benchmarking studies, but the directional usefulness of industry benchmark data remains valid (See my post of April 23, 2006: golden apples to apples.). Internal benchmarks tracked over time can give much guidance, and greatly diminish concerns about comparability (See my posts of Oct. 14, 2005: time-series measures; and April 6, 2008: law department versus other staff groups.).

Key benchmarks have remained remarkably stable over the past decade or more (See my post of Dec. 5, 2007 [two]: past 14 years.).

A cottage industry collects metrics from law departments and hammers them into benchmarks. For example, Altman Weil (the publications part of which is now part of American Lawyer Media), Thomson-Reuters (Hildebrandt) and Jon Bellis, who carried the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey with him, the General Counsel Roundtable, and Serengeti.

Practice area metrics deserve more attention than they have gotten by survey groups (See my posts of April 9, 2006; July 18, 2006; and May 21, 2006: intellectual property benchmarks; Feb. 12, 2006; and April 23, 2006 [two]: employment; as well as Jan. 25, 2006; Jan. 5, 2006; May 10, 2006; June 15, 2006; and April 17, 2007: litigation; and Feb. 25, 2008: references cited.

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