Client tests for efficiency - firms fail to deliver

January 24th, 2013 by Altman Weil

There’s a wonderful article in today’s Law Technology News that illustrates the disconnect between law firms and their clients when it comes to efficiency.  Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel for Kia Motors America, has written about a test he gives law firm associates.  This test uses a few mock legal assignments to assess associates’ competence in a number of basic tech programs, but more to the point, it assesses their law firm’s ability to deliver work efficiently. Done properly, each task can be completed in 20 minutes. 

Here is his description of the results:

“Not a single associate at any of the nine firms I have audited has come anywhere close to the 20-minute mark on the first assignment. That is, all of the associates approached the assignment in ways that would have required five to 15 times longer than necessary. At $200 to $400 per associate hour, such inefficiency suggests to me that, indeed, waste is a righteous concern.

Failing my audit has repercussions. Of the nine major firms I have audited, all nine have failed — some more miserably than others. A few of these firms were auditioning for work and were not retained. Other firms, including longtime incumbents, agreed to rate reductions. One firm, for example, took an across-the-board 5 percent reduction that will be restored if they are able to pass a subsequent audit. Another firm agreed to a significant investment in associate training and has worked closely with me to upgrade a substantial number of their internal practices and processes. Finally, audit results influence my review of counsels’ billing entries.”

The author goes on to describe the tests in some depth – but don’t get lost in the details of Excel spreadsheets.  The point is that client expectations for efficient delivery of legal services have changed.  Law firms cannot, in Mr. Flaherty’s words, simply ”throw expensive bodies at a problem” any longer. 

Read it at Law Technology News

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