Measuring the Quality of Your Legal Team

When a new car rolls off the assembly line, every part on it has been checked, double-checked and checked again to make sure it meets the exact specifications and tolerances established by the automotive engineers who designed it. Car manufacturers know that in order to sell more cars, and remain profitable and competitive, they have to keep their quality up.

Now, measuring quality on your legal team isn’t quite as straightforward or engineering-oriented as measuring the specs and tolerances on engines and transmissions. After all, the legal profession is a service, not a product business. And the quality of service businesses is sometimes difficult to measure accurately.

The legal profession has always measured its value based on billable hours, rather than bottom-line results, and this also makes the quality of legal services difficult to determine. But even though it’s more difficult to determine – more ambiguous and subjective – art rather than science – nevertheless, it can be done.

So how do you evaluate the quality of your legal team? It’s not much different than those automotive engineers who sit down and design plans for how they want their cars to look when they finally roll off the assembly line.

You start by outlining the results or outcomes that you hope to achieve from a particular legal engagement, and then clearly communicating those outcomes to your legal team. You want good value for your money, so by defining your expectations and outcomes beforehand, you let your team know what you think is important and valuable in a legal engagement. So define what a successful engagement would look like to you. What results are you hoping to achieve? What are your expectations regarding your legal team? Try to be as specific as possible.

Rather than thinking in terms of win or lose, you may want to consider a range of possible outcomes, from best to worst case. Once you’ve decided on the results you’re looking for, break down the engagement by tasks, and try to estimate the number of hours required for each. You may want to assign areas of task accountability to specific members of the legal team.

On larger projects, you’ll want to set milestones, either in percentage of hours billed or engagement tasks completed, where you can measure ongoing engagement progress. Schedule periodic progress reports and reviews and build them into your engagement contract. When reviewing engagement progress, you’ll need to note any variances from original estimates and expectations and update your progress reports as needed to reflect any changes.

Review all monthly billing statements for accuracy, and you may want to enlist the help of an outside firm that specializes in managing legal financial reporting to assist you with all of the paperwork.

You should also insist on good customer service including:

 Timely notification of any engagement status changes

 Discussion of fees and scope of work before engagement is awarded

 Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner

 Accurate and timely monthly statements

 Specifying lawyers that you want handling your case

Follow these guidelines and you’ll not only have a cost-effective, low-maintenance and smooth-running legal engagement, but you’ll also have a high-powered legal team that’s firing on all cylinders for years to come.