CLOs often have trouble deciding what metrics to use to measure their law department’s performance and demonstrate its value to the organization. Much of the struggle ties back to the feeling that practicing law is more akin to an art form than a science. The finished contract can take many forms, but the finished shoe must look like the prototype or we have a problem. Another part of the problem lies in data. Lawyers have not been fond of collecting data so when it comes to metrics, we often have nothing to use. We need to break down the metric barriers, and in this post I’m going to show you how to get data and measure performance on one important factor with an easy metric.

Why We Need Metrics

When I led a manufacturing organization, we had four measures we used to measure our performance each day, week, month, quarter and year. They were productivity, quality, safety, and complete-and-on-time (COT). We had about 20 other measures we used for different purposes, but those were the big four. As the leader of my organization, I was expected to know where we stood on those four at all times, and where we stood compared to the goals set for the relevant period. By keeping those metrics front and center, I focused my organization’s activities on what made progress towards those goals. The same was true for each person reporting to me. They had to know where their part of the organization stood on the goals and what they were doing to move us towards them.

When we don’t have goals, it is easy to get caught up in daily activities and spend time on things that don’t take us towards a goal or on things that actually pull us away from a goal. Often, service organizations (like law departments) will feel it is not their place to focus on whether a task (a contract) pulls the organization toward a goal. The people asking for the contract should focus on that question and the law department should simply reduce the friction (get the contract done). The problem with that view, in my opinion, is that service departments (law, HR, IT, finance, etc.) play a substantial role in the operations of any organization. Having such a large percentage of an organization deferring on goals means the organization loses a lot of potential momentum. I think it is better when the law department plans an active role in making sure corporate activities are goal-directed. In part, I believe this because the law department is a clearinghouse. It sees things going on throughout the organization and can help identify when things veer off in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mean the law department overrules other departments, but it does mean the law department can help by raising the question “is this the right thing to do?”

If the law department should have goals that tie into the organization’s goals, then it needs metrics and that brings us back to the CLO’s problem: what to use as law department metrics. In a two-part post, I talked about quality and in another post I suggested four metrics a law department could use. Today, I’m going to talk about complete-and-on-time as a metric.

The COT Metric

In the manufacturing world I inhabited for a while, COT mean: delivering an order to a customer complete and on time. Our company made office furniture. Customers would order chairs, desks, filing cabinets and bookcases because they were furnishing offices, conference rooms, and so on. When it came time to deliver a load to a customer, we measured whether the order was complete. Had we manufactured all of the pieces the customer ordered? The second question was whether the delivery was leaving on time? For example, if we delayed shipping an order by a few days so that we could deliver it complete, we might have a complete, but not on time, delivery.

Recently, I’ve heard more complaints from in-house lawyers that outside lawyers either don’t get them things on time, or don’t appreciate the need to get something done on the in-house counsel’s schedule. The complaint surprised me, because I always thought using outside counsel to get things done when you were time-crunched in a law department and had fixed resources was one of the advantages of outside counsel. One area where the timeliness complaint seems to come up frequently is litigation. In-house lawyers complain that outside lawyers get them documents the in-house lawyers need to review, either partially complete or too late for proper review and revision.

If getting things late or incomplete is a problem for your law department, then measuring COT for lawyers and law firms may help. The first step is to define what complete means. Do you want to review the entire document, ready to file? Or, are you willing to look at it piecemeal? Do you want to get the closing documents all at once, or one at a time? Do you want the brief to include all the citations properly cite-checked, or just the argument with placeholders for citations? Some in-house lawyers want to provide input on the documents; others just want to make sure there isn’t anything that would present a public relations issue for the company. Whatever it is you will consider “complete,” make sure you and your outside lawyers agree on the definition.

Second, you must define “on time.” Vague references like “in time to review before filing” or “sufficiently in advance of closing” are not sufficient. Pick a date. Don’t use wishy-washy time references (two weeks), pick a date.

Third, confirm the arrangements in writing. You don’t have to send a formal letter, but you should send an email documenting what you expect and when.  “Dear Mary: As we discussed, you will send me a complete draft of the brief in support of the motion for summary judgment, all editing and cite-checking finished, on or before January 14th.  I will return the draft to you with my comments on or before January 30th. You stated this would give you enough time to make any necessary revisions and file the brief on or before the February 7th due date.”

Now we both know what I am expecting and when I expect it. A brief that gets to me on January 16th that hasn’t been cite-checked is neither complete nor on time. Also, note that I made a reverse commitment. Lawyers in law firms need to manage their schedules. Let them know what you will get back to them and when, so they can plan their time.

With these simple steps, you can now measure COT for your outside lawyers. If you get 10 briefs and two were either late or not complete, that law firm has an 80% COT score. What might have been an argument in the past about what was due when and what was delivered, now is an objective discussion backed by written communications. The facts can help a managing partner address performance problems and they can help you compare firms and identify what relationship issues you need to address.