I recently helped moderate part of a webinar hosted by Viewabill during which we discussed a broad range of issues related to using metrics. The panelists were a combination of in-house and law firm lawyers, with some legal operations folks added to the mix to ground us in the real world. The discussions were interesting, and highlighted our evolving views that the practice of law is, and should be, more metric driven.

At one point, we wandered into a discussion about what metrics and standards each participant is using as key performance indicators. It quickly became clear that the answers were all over the map. Each participant had his or her favorite metric, but we had few overlaps. I described the world of legal metrics as the “wild west” right now. We work in an environment where we really don’t have a set of core metrics we can look to and use to compare performance on an absolute (us versus us) or relative (us versus others) basis.

Lawyers have practiced for a long time without a core set of metrics. At first blush, you may think the lack of a core set is not a big deal. But, lawyers also did not focus on efficiency for a long time. In the modern legal world, we are focusing on efficiency and metrics have become not just important, but essential.

To be clear, I don’t think everyone needs to use the same metrics across the board. Each firm and each company will have things important to them and will want to use metrics to measure those things. But, it would help companies and firms alike if there were some core metrics everyone could use both to measure period over period change and to measure how each is doing compared to others.

What are those metrics? That is the open question right now. I have some ideas as do others, but let’s not focus on the specifics. There are some efforts under way to build a core set of metrics and I think we will get there as long as we keep in mind the benefits to all from having the set. The point of establishing core metrics is that we all start using a common language for measuring what is happening in legal service delivery and, more importantly, how we are improving it. Right now, without that common language, discussions about improvement are a confusing mish mash of incompatible tongues.

It really isn’t strange to want industry-wide common metrics. Certainly for corporations, law departments are probably the only department that doesn’t operate in an industry with common metrics. Some lawyers may prefer the lack of accountability, but most clients recognize those fun days are over.

As the legal industry evolves it also needs to mature. For law, that includes developing and using a cores set of metrics that helps all of us keep improving.

Living in the Wild West of Law