Efficiency v. Effectiveness v. Innovation: Why Draw Lines?

There’s a quiet debate among legal pundits that’s often played out on social media sites such as Twitter, one that probably not too many people pay attention to. It’s almost an ancillary argument to the “traditional” way of billing for legal services, but it a debate that I believe cuts to the heart of value and innovation in our profession.

On the one side is the “effectiveness” argument, and one of the most outspoken voices on the topic is Ron Baker of California-based VeraSage Institute. Mr. Baker is a proponent of the death of the billable hour, and frames many of his opinions regarding legal value with the “effectiveness trumps efficiency” argument. If you’re on Twitter, I would encourage you to follow Mr. Baker.

Another proponent of the demise of the billable hour is Pat Lamb of Chicago-based Valorem Law Group – you might recognize Pat from recent 'New Normal' posts on the subject on the ABA Journal website. In a blog post over the weekend, Pat addressed the notion that effectiveness comes at the sacrifice of efficiency, and that the pursuit of efficiency stifles innovation. Pat says it all very well, but I’d like to tack on a couple of thoughts.

When undertaken properly, the search for efficiency can undoubtedly lead to innovation. We see it firsthand when we look at the processes of our clients; how they manage their legal work, who touches the documents, if there are better ways to allocate resources, where money can be saved and work can be handled better, as well as many other factors. We put a new plan into action and, as the process evolves, we look at how our attorneys are working, if the quality (or “effectiveness”) is meeting or exceeding expectations, and how we can do even better work in more efficient ways. As long as the goal is better effectiveness, the search for efficiency can certainly lead to innovation.

A huge target for this is the multiple-level review of documents in the e-discovery process. A common practice is for a team of attorneys to handle a first-level review of the documents and then for outside counsel to re-review a certain percentage of these documents. This process is almost always ripe for efficiency, especially considering the cost of the law firm’s review of the documents. But is it effective for the lawyers trying the case to only see a select portion of the documents?

That’s sometimes a contentious subject, but with a thorough quality control process, adept use of technology platforms and experienced attorneys conducting the initial review (especially those with deep experience litigating cases both small and large), it’s become clear to us that outside counsel often needs to review decreasingly fewer documents. The key is to build an effective QC process alongside outside counsel, part of which includes having senior people on the review team who have a solid understanding of the case and who work closely with outside counsel; they understand what outside counsel is looking for to win the case and can build a process to feed them the right documents. In practice, with each ensuing matter these issues become both more efficient and more effective, but it takes a certain level of innovation to design and implement the process.

So yes, I strongly believe the search for efficiency can lead to better effectiveness AND innovation. In fact, I think efforts in any of the three of these areas can benefit the others.
 

Leadership on a Matter -- It Matters

The main subject matter of this blog is to discuss best practices or recognize innovative happenings in the legal profession; despite our best efforts, it’s sometimes difficult to stop for a second to write about something or want to write about it when it seems promotional of our company. I considered this yesterday as I was reviewing the status of an interesting new assignment we’re working on, and there are a couple of items I felt were worth discussion here. So here we go ...

Just last week, a team of approximately 20 Counsel On Call attorneys and paralegals -- working remotely from five different cities across the country -- began a project in which they are assisting a corporate client by reviewing and updating all of its vendor contracts before the end of the fiscal year. Each is a great attorney with significant contracts experience in the client's industry (I think the average is around seven years of experience), but what is especially noteworthy about this matter is that several boundaries have been knocked down. It truly is about good lawyers wanting to work with good lawyers, trusting a process and not necessarily taking the road most traveled. The focus is on communication, not location; the qualifications of the attorneys, not the name of the place where they work; and the track record of the leadership and management of the team, not just the bullet points on a resume. This results in the client's ability to get the work done efficiently, access a much larger talent pool and keep a tight hold on costs.

Specifically to the latter point – and we have certainly learned a lot from our work in the world of e-discovery in this regard – good project management and team leadership are essential. Anytime there are this many people on a team, multiple work sites, and tight deadlines, it is imperative to have a strategy in place and implement it. That sounds easy, but I think anyone who has been involved in team-based assignments understands that it takes a great project manager and/or team leader to pull this off. There are always changes; there is always troubleshooting; it is never a completely smooth ride. You need to be able to have a core strategy that can move forward without getting derailed when adjustments are needed. The leadership on the matter matters, and that’s why I'm very proud that we have a great group of leaders who can handle these types of assignments and make our clients’ lives easier.

There’s certainly more than one way to skin a cat, and it’s exciting to be a problem solver in that regard.