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Tools, processes and concepts related to managing law departments

Many posts on Law Department Management Blog discuss “tools” – discrete techniques or practices that help people in a law department accomplish something (See my post of Oct. 18, 2006: compares processes to tools; April 17, 2007: tools in law departments.). Other posts take up “processes” – steps of a repeated series of actions that lead to an outcome (See my post of April 27, 2006 and June 28, 2006.). But what about law-department management “concepts”?

Concepts are broad ideas. While tools are means to accomplish something and processes are routines, concepts are expansive ideas that encompass many tools and processes as well as considerations about them.

These distinctions between tools, processes and concepts leave something to be desired. For example, evaluations of law firms by in-house counsel is certainly a tool that helps a law department. It is also a process, since there are several steps and participants in evaluations and they are done with some consistency and regularity. At the same time, law-firm evaluations is a concept, with many aspects to it. Which law firms should we assess and on what attributes; how do we convey the results and does an evaluation make a difference?

Another example of this three-way perspective relates to standout performers sometimes referred to as “high potentials.” Several tools apply to high-potential employees, such as how to identify them and accelerate them; there are processes that go along with those tools; and the concept has broad ramifications for talent management and productivity.

The truth is, every tool of a law department, even the most trivial such as a pencil, fits into some process – drafting documents for one – and embodies concepts – communication, expense, training to note three. By contrast, game theory is purely a concept.