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Marlene Gebauer, in a guest post, takes me to task for my recent post on how the law firm model is not broken. Based on the comments I received from that post, I told her to “get in line” if she wanted to take a shot at me, but then I decided to hand her the microphone.
Every Legal Project Manager who read Toby’s last post on “The Business Model Is Not Broken” is saying a big THANK YOU right now. They are pretty much guaranteed employment for life based on his musings.
I agree that financial management of legal practice, the “cost of doing business” if you will, is extremely important-whether that be in terms of hourly billing, alternatives fees or collections.
But a law firm is not exactly an assembly line for automobiles. In order to create internal efficiencies, automotive companies did create assembly lines and automate. Which many argue we can and should do at least in certain instances of legal practice. But what automotive companies also did was measure the average time it took to complete each task and communicate that to its employees. So the internal standard was established and those who purchased cars benefit from the lower cost and faster delivery times.
Law firms may have a difficult time establishing the metrics delivered in the automotive industry because they deliver a service, not a product. Law firms, billing hourly, have to standardize time entry by time increment (easy) and task code (not so easy) to determine how long a specific task will take. Some may say that alone is impossible, but let’s play devil’s advocate and say it is doable. People who purchase cars don’t ever see (or likely care about) the internal production metrics. In contrast, legal clients review and have a say about those time entries-and they care about them a great deal. A law firms’ billing classification system may not jive with a client’s. A client may need certain sorts of coding to correspond to their own internal systems. While a firm can adjust to a client’s needs, if done significantly, the internal efficiency metrics become meaningless because you are no longer comparing apples to apples. If that happens I guess you just hire the big guy with the cat o’ nine tails.