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Topology to depict the distribution of management initiatives among law departments

It sounds wonderful and straightforward if we could rank law departments on a bell curve of the number of their management initiatives. Some departments on the left tail of the array do very little to manage themselves; the large group humped in the middle have two or three activities underway to improve performance; while out on the right are a few with a slew of improvement programs underway. That may be dreamed, but it is far too simplistic and unrealistic (See my posts of July 14, 2006 on models generally; and Aug. 28, 2005 on the McKinsey 7S model.).

A bell curve misconceives the reality of law department management because not all efforts to produce more with better quality at lower cost have the same consequences. A program to recycle doesn’t hold a candle to an all-out effort to converge law firms. You can’t simply count management endeavors as if they were all equally vital and graph the number.

For another reason, there is no accepted taxonomy or terminology to describe precisely the many efforts by general counsel to increase effective output (See my posts of March 27, 2005 on the value of an inventory of your management initiatives; March 11, 2007 that compares initiatives to processes.).

The widely-varying sizes of law departments compound the difficulty of how to visualize law department management initiatives (See my posts of April 5, 2005 on size and initiatives correlating; and Sept. 30, 2005.). No three-lawyer department will have as many efforts to improve as will a 30-lawyer department, let alone a 300-lawyer department. What it takes to manage larger groups is much more than what it takes to run small groups. Hence, even if a quantitative toting up of initiatives makes any sense, you would have to normalize the number by the size of the law department.

On any given set of initiatives, such as outside counsel management or talent development, one might more reliably describe law departments as a group in terms of some geometric shape (but not the well-recognized bell curve), but to combine all possible management initiatives is a fool’s errand.

A better graphical representation of management efforts by law department leaders would look more like a topological map. For any law department, there are some relative high points, which correspond to a management initiative adhered to over time with a material benefit obtained (See my posts of Sept. 10, 2005 on an index of management initiatives;; May 31, 2006 on the sigmoid curve of initiatives; April 15, 2006 on how many initiatives a department can absorb; May 30, 2005 on initiative overload at Shell Malaysia; Aug. 4, 2005 on the ROI of initiatives; April 1, 2007 on when to stop initiatives; April 23, 2007 on a four-level spectrum; and March 6, 2007 on an initiative pyramid.).

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