Antoine Henry de Frahan, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is partner of FrahanBlondé (www.frahanblonde.com), a consultancy focusing on professional services.
We have come to the conclusion that metrics are immensely important, powerful but dangerous and inevitable. Our fear now is that many European firms will make the mistake made by several Anglo-Saxon firms, a mistake very hard to rectify, as is demonstrated by Guy Beringer’s article. The danger is that the media, and in media we include magazines, press, directories, league tables, research companies etc., will outpace the European law firms in determining the benchmarks and the metrics.
It is the mission and the legitimate task of the media to inform and make transparent what is not transparent. Just like the managers, they will use benchmarks and metrics to do this, exactly as they are doing in other sectors and as they are already doing in the UK and the US.
Law firms have two options. The first option is to react and follow the metrics imposed upon on them by the media, with the danger to end up in a PEP-like spiral that is very hard to get out of again. The second is to proactively determine their metrics-strategy in alignment with the long-term objectives, values and culture of the firm and to use this as a basis to build a well-balanced, mutually beneficial, relationship with the media.
Since the culture and the specific character of the firm are at stake, we strongly urge European firms to go for the second option and keep control of their metrics system.
Defining metrics and benchmarks
What is a good metrics strategy? Applying Hauser and Katz' definition to law firms: "Metrics empower individuals in the firm, whatever their role and responsibility, to make the decisions and take the actions that they believe are the best decisions and actions to achieve the metrics. If the metrics are chosen carefully, individuals will make the right decisions and take the right actions that enable the firm to achieve its long-term objectives."
This has important consequences on the determination and the implementation of a metrics strategy:
-The metrics strategy starts from clear long-term objectives: What does the firm want to achieve? What is its purpose? How will it make a difference?
-Metrics are the result of a thought-over process that has carefully taken into account undesirable side effects. Lawyers have the motives and capabilities to maximize their own well-being under the metrics system. We hope that those decisions and actions are the decisions and actions that are in the firm's best interests, but, a priori, we cannot be sure. One way to test this is to involve partners and staff in the process. ‘Ivory-tower-metrics' are probably the most dangerous ones.
-Long-term objectives are firm-specific, therefore so is the metrics strategy. It doesn't make sense to base the metrics strategy on the metrics used by competitors. The ‘me too' approach is dangerous and value destroying. Law firms must be creative in inventing new metrics (but conservative in implementing them). A good way to do this is to focus metrics on the output (e.g. the usage of the knowledge database) in stead of the input (e.g. the number of documents in the knowledge database).
-The primary goal of the metrics strategy is internal to the firm. Figures can only be communicated externally if they also make sense internally. Externally used figures and benchmarks will have internal effects. Firms should therefore avoid launching uncontrolled figures or numbers solely for the sake of marketing purposes. And remember: media will expect figures released once, to be repeated, also in less convenient times.
-The metrics system goes beyond financial metrics. Any long-term objective of a law firm passes through client and staff satisfaction and loyalty. Therefore a metrics strategy ignoring these will be incomplete and ill-fated.
The process is tough and will take time and energy. It's the price to pay to play with the big guys.
Este artículo fue publicado por TopLegal International en su edición de junio de 2008.