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When in-house counsel assess the performance of a firm, push them to give specific examples

We are all defensive, so if a law department lawyer criticizes a law firm, the partner who hears the criticism (and tries dutifully to acknowledge it, appreciate it, take it to heart as constructive advice) inwardly may seethe and deny. The partner wishes deeply to hear a real instance of the problem.

The wish deserves granting. Make sure your lawyers sprinkle through their evaluations comments on specific situations that justify the criticism, not just conclusory, high-level remarks. “On the X brief, the Y memo and the Z letter you got the draft to me too late for a careful review” backs up a criticism much better than does “You’re often late.”

As well, useful assessments offer a comparative view: “Your firm was the weakest of our primary firms on delegation of work.” Sometimes feedback relies on measurable characteristics such as effective billing rates, cycle time, or percentage use of core staff. Benchmarks give even more crunchiness to firm-to-firm evaluations (See my post of Nov. 16, 2005: evaluations of law firms with 9 references.).