What are the Useful Metrics & Benchmarks for Information Professionals?

Image [cc] Lucy Kimbell
I was watching Tim Corcoran’s video on “Useful Metrics & Benchmarking” and it made me think about how some of the metrics and benchmarking strategies apply to information professionals within a law firm environment. Are we, as managers of these professionals, giving them the right type of feedback that contributes to the overall strategy of the group, or are we asking them to hit benchmarks which do not mesh with the strategy? Tim makes a statement that “You can’t manage well what you can’t measure well.” Of course, Tim is talking about law department metrics, but I’m pretty sure the same concepts are applicable to law firm information professionals.

Here's Tim Corcoran's video. I have borrowed heavily from around the 7:36 through the 10:46 portion of the video (with Tim's permission), and applied it to measuring the efforts of the Information Professional.

Metrics and Benchmarks for Law Firm Information Professionals
So what are Law Firm Information Professional metrics today? Let’s borrow and edit the list that Tim uses for law departments:
  • Costs (rates, hours, total cost)
  • Ratios (attorneys:InfoPros)
  • Write offs/downs
  • Repeat Work
  • Additional Costs / Adherence to Budget
  • Service (responsiveness, experience/specialty)
Let’s think about each of these and how we benchmark them and score our InfoPros to these metrics. I want to talk about these on a high-level, and not get into the minutia of what does and doesn’t apply on an individual level.
Costs – pretty straight forward metric of finding out how much the firm is actually paying for this person.
Ratios – this could be attorney to InfoPro, or it could be Practice Group or Office to InfoPro. However you want to measure it, just make sure it is consistent across the staff so you don’t start getting apples to oranges comparisons.
Write offs/downs – Again, pretty straight forward measurement of what did they bill versus what did we bill the clients… and what did the clients actually pay.
Repeat Work – Are attorneys or groups returning and asking for more work from the individual? I know that many of us, my group included, set up a pool of InfoPros to handle work as it comes in, but I think most of us have a reality that attorneys become comfortable with certain people that do good work for them, or are conveniently located to them.
Additional Costs / Adherence to Budget – Are the InfoPros aware of budget restraints for certain clients, and following those rules? If clients do not pay for online legal research, are they going in and using these tools anyway, or are they finding alternative methods to get information that will not cause additional write offs on the client invoice?
Service – How responsive are they? Do individual InfoPros have specialty knowledge of certain practice areas or are subject specialists with unique access to individual resources (usually allocated to them because of licensing issues or overall cost of these specialty resources)?
Mission and Strategy vs. Evaluation and Goals
Do the metrics we measure match our strategy? I’m going to guess that most of us have a mission statement (whether implied or official) that says something like this:
Our department serves the broad needs of our internal and external clients with a highly knowledgeable staff providing exemplary research results in an effective and efficient manner.
I’m sure there are a thousand different ways to say it, but effectively we have a mission of having high-quality people with great knowledge and research/analytical skills who get great results back to the client in a quick and cost effective manner. If that is our mission and strategy, are we measuring our people on those items and encouraging them to fulfill the strategy, or are we rating them and giving bonuses/pay increases or promotions on other metrics? Are bonuses and raises tied only to length of time at the firm, or are there measurable items used to determine how these are allocated? Are there non-monetary incentives available to reward those who score well on certain benchmarks.

Can we take Tim’s idea of using Scorecards to let the InfoPros know where they stand within the firm and perhaps even against their peers? If the only time that your staff knows how well they are doing against the benchmarks which they are being measured is at review time, then that’s bad management on your part and unfair to everyone.

On Tim’s example of scorecards, he lists a number of measurable subjects that can easily apply to Information Professionals, but in reality, it needs to be modified to fit the benchmarks you are asking them to hit. The scorecard should both be presented as a constantly updated piece of information, as well as a snapshot of how well the person is doing in a set period of time (monthly, quarterly, etc.)

Again, borrowing from Tim’s list, let’s think about what InfoPros would see on their scorecards, and where they stand in relationship to those benchmarks.
  • Practice Summary – What have they worked on? Bullet points of projects assigned and completed. Perhaps this piece of the scorecard is kept by the InfoPro themselves, or a joint effort. 
  • Top Billed Matters/Clients – What matters or clients are InfoPros constantly asked to cover? Perhaps expand that to practice areas if they are subject experts.
  • Spend by Practice Group – What are the costs associated to the InfoPro when they are asked to perform a task? Look at time spent, resources used and charged to clients. Don’t forget to measure things like training or client development tasks that may not show up on the client invoice.
  • Tasks or Hours Worked vs. Peers – I know that some of us don’t like this type of competition within the group, but if we are going to allocate bonuses or future pay based on how well they compare to others within the group, it may be fair to expose that information throughout the year so that they know where they stand.
  • Client satisfaction – what type of feedback are they given from those requesting their assistance? Can you get measurable feedback (1 to 5 scale) from internal clients? Perhaps your reference 
  • Adherence to Budget – are they following guidelines, or are there additional expenses incurred when using certain InfoPros?
  • Time Entry Turnaround – Is there a lag between time worked for a client, and the time entered for that client?
Metrics vs. Gut Feeling
Tim doesn’t get into this area directly, but I think it is a logical step in this conversation as most of us may be very uncomfortable using these types of metrics to judge people who report to us on a daily basis. It would be much easier to simply give feedback and measure performance based on what we experience with the Information Professional on a personal level. I’m not saying that personal interaction and experiences should not be used in evaluations, but it should not be the only measurement. There simply has to be benchmarks that have clearly defined measurements, and transparent to those being measured as to where they stand within the benchmark.

Where the gut-feelings and individual experience comes into play is putting a narrative to the metrics. Metrics give us data, but may not tell a complete story. One prime example would be that some individuals may have high write-offs simply because they do a lot of work for attorneys that won’t pass along their costs to the client. This is where the periodic reviews of the scorecard comes in handy. By setting the metrics and monitoring them, you begin to understand the story behind the data at an earlier point in time. This will allow you and the InfoPro to take corrective actions either by correcting internal behavior, or client behavior.

I’ll bring Tim’s comment back of “You can’t manage well what you can’t measure well.” Establishing metrics and benchmarks based on the overall strategy of the department and the firm will help the InfoPros work toward that strategy, and will allow you to measure how well they are doing in achieving that strategy, as well as how well your overall department is working toward promoting the firm's overall strategy.

Benchmarking the Department
I'm going to borrow one last thing from Tim from around the 10:30 mark in his video where he talks about the law department leveraging the scorecards as an integral part of the overall business needs of the company, and apply it to the efforts and mission of the Information Professional department.  In establishing clear benchmarks that drive overall strategy of the firm, you can leverage this process and become so closely linked to the law firm's strategy, that your groups becomes a competitive advantage for the firm. Firms are always looking for a cost advantage, or a unique skill set for its marketing to clients. How about leveraging your department to help the firm get to clients faster, overcome obstacles more quickly, manage information and knowledge more effectively so that we operate more effectively in our markets. Tim concludes this section of establishing metrics that show your impact on the overall business with a thoughtful statement. "Think about that. A metric that helps us understand the impact we're having on the business throughput can be pretty powerful."

Thanks again, Tim, for letting me morph your legal department concepts for metrics and benchmarking onto the world of legal information professionals.

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Unknown said...

Good article!

James Mitchell said...

Some basic principles apply to any metrics or scorecard:
1) make the important measurable rather than the measurable important. It's so easy to use what data is available rather than properly understand the data that is valuable
2) Try and make the metrics forward looking - to better understand what they mean to you going forward. Think of this as the difference between Chartered Accountants (who look at last year's figures closed down at year-end) and Management Accountants (who are looking at the impact of today's activity on budgets and plans
3) Don't use inly your own data from within the company - look outwards and combine with external data from general economy and competitors for example

Moving forward the generated metrics /scorecard should help validate and confirm a manager's gut feeling and maybe even suggest alternative courses of action (through a suitable analytic and query tool). This will provide evidence points to justify your decisions.

Scott Bailey said...

Great analysis of key metrics here at an important time. We need these tools to prove value to management.

Kreig Kitts said...

I'm wary of overemphasizing hours metrics, partly because it can punish efficiency and encourage overworking issues. One way that good research can create value, especially for the clients, is through saving labor, and firms need to find more ways to align incentives with value created, not just hours spent. And library managers need to find ways to demonstrate that value to management.

Greg Lambert said...

Kreig, that's a great point. I think it goes back to James Mitchell's comment earlier about making important tasks measurable, rather than making measurable tasks important. Those metrics are different depending upon the type of services you provide for the firm. For example, we have a number of research attorneys that conduct a large percentage of their time for either billable or non-billable research requested by the attorneys or administration. The time spent is definitely measurable, but the story may be in comparing the time spent on these types of projects by a research attorney, versus the time spent by associates or partners in the firm. If we can show that the research attorney performs similar tasks but at a lower costs or faster time, then the story of the value can be directly shown. But there has to be something that is measurable and comparable. It can't simply be anecdotal, there has to be some apples to apples metrics applied. Hours are definitely a metric, and one that should be used, but hours only tell a part of the story.


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