9/19/11

Using River Logic to Build AFAs

A recent post on Slaw highlighted an interesting tool called eGanges which employs the Ishikawa Fishbone approach to solving legal problems. This approach uses river logic in contrast to a decision tree approach. Beyond the wonderful ‘Ishikawa Fishbone’ name, I see some potential applications in the AFA world for a tool like this and river logic in general.
To understand river logic, consider starting with the outcome of a project instead of with the inputs. To better illustrate this idea, compare that concept to the traditional decision tree approach which starts with inputs, determines probable outcomes from each one, links those with dependencies from other outcomes, and determines a probable overall outcome (excuse my convoluted, yet over-simplification here).
The river approach gets its name from the analogy of starting at the mouth of a river (its outcome), instead of at the trunk of a decision tree (where the fruit is the outcome). The “Fishbone” moniker is another visualization of river logic, with the mouth of the fish being the mouth of the river and the fish bones being the tributaries.
As a means to more fully describe this approach, I have an idea for applying it to AFAs. When lawyers approach me about putting together a fixed fee or even just a budget for a matter, their instinct is to take a decision tree approach. They want to gather up a list of inputs (tasks) and select the timekeepers and number of hours for each task. Then these task costs (rates times hours) add up to an outcome: the budget. This approach works, but it also takes quite a bit of time to construct. And even then, the lawyer will invariably question the final number.
My preferred approach is to use the river logic method (although I only started calling it that today). I ask the lawyer what they think the final fee will be (a.k.a. the outcome). Now, standing at the mouth of the river, we move up-stream to identify any tributaries and establish how much water (fees) is coming from them. Some tributaries need to be explored to identify their water source to make sure it won’t fluctuate (think spring run-off). For legal work, these tributaries might be "discovery" or “jurisdiction” or “aggressive negotiators” – you get the idea.
With the river logic approach you spend your time testing your instinctive assumptions on a priority basis, only spending time on those that need it. Whereas the decision tree approach treats all aspects as equally important, forcing you to expend limited un-billable resources on low-value tasks.
Does the eGanges tool work well for this? That is yet to be seen. At a minimum, the river logic, Ishikawa Fishbone concept gives us a new way of approaching budget building for AFAs and any other fee deal.
Maybe we should rename our blog, “River Geeks.” OK ... maybe not. That doesn't sound quite as elegant as river logic.

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1 comments:

Jay Pinkert said...

The fishbone diagram is a standard Six Sigma DMAIC tool.

http://www.brighthub.com/office/project-management/articles/42237.aspx

While a full-on Six Sigma program likely is overkill for law firms, the decision-making processes and tools are broadly applicable and useful, and deserve serious study.

 

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