Morrison on Metrics: Metrics means manipulation

If you can't manage what you can't measure, with equal force, what you measure can be manipulated. Everything that a general counsel chooses to count - the first step in any effort to create a performance metric - not only raises definitional issues, but also interpretational differences. The primal term "matter," for example, as in matters per lawyer or number of environmental matters, needs a workable definition for someone to tally them. Matter could mean more than four hours of work, issues related to a certain degree, important enough to be recorded or a threshold spend on outside counsel. But even a crisp definition oozes into plenty of interpretational uncertainty and ingenuity. Clever lawyers, if their bonus, promotions or responsibility depend on the number of their matters, find ways to boost the number.

So too with the number of patents applied for, the number of law firms retained, the percentage of fees paid other than on an hourly rate and savings extracted from law firm invoices. If it becomes important to be counted, it is vulnerable to being gamed. Numbers don't exist in a vacuum, waiting to be picked up like marbles. To some extent, all numbered items are socially created.

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Rees Morrison

Rees Morrison, Esq. is the founder of General Counsel Metrics, LLC. Based in Princeton, NJ, Rees has for the past 25 years consulted solely to...

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