Corporate clients are increasingly savvy about performance metrics — often more so than the lawyers whose work product is being measured. Many lawyers are unaware of the categories and parameters clients are using to evaluate them. And unless you have a particularly candid relationship with your client, you are likely in the dark about how your firm compares to counsel your client may retain in other jurisdictions.
Here are common performance metrics categories clients use to analyze attorney efficiency and effectiveness — and ways you can self-audit.
The length of time files are open can be an indicator of how efficiently lawyers are managing their caseloads. In many states, the time it takes to get a case from filing to trial can vary wildly from county to county. Cycle times are likewise variable when considering practice area and the complexity of individual cases. But over the course of time, the amount of time your cases are open should be an indicator of your case management efficiency.
TIP: Using a spreadsheet, you can track opening and closing dates for your cases, which you can use to find the average number of months your cases are open. I recommend separating cases by practice area, due to the widely varying lengths of time different types of cases take to litigate.
Adherence to Proposed Budgets
Some cases are going to cost more than others. Multiple party or fact witness depositions. Biomechanical and accident reconstruction experts. Site inspections. Thousands of pages of document review. It’s understandable and often completely necessary in order to properly evaluate a case. But are you communicating that to your client? Are the time and expenses you’re incurring on a file truly necessary, or can they be interpreted as bill padding and driving up the costs of defense? While the specifics may vary from case to case, the trend should be that you are proposing accurate and reasonable budgets.
TIP: Using a spreadsheet like the one above, you can track the budget you propose to your client and compare it to the actual costs, including billing fees and expenses.
Effective Settlement and Verdict Evaluations
An injury that’s worth $40,000 in one venue could be worth $400,000 in another. Your client likely isn’t as familiar with the venues in your state as you are. They rely on you to provide appropriate case valuations so they can set their reserves and budget for upcoming litigation costs. Your accurate case valuations enable clients to manage risk over the course of time. Or to the contrary, your inaccurate evaluations inhibit their ability to manage risk and operate a profitable business.
TIP: You can track your settlement and verdict recommendations in a spreadsheet so you can then compare them with actual results. Doing so allows you to quickly determine what percentage of cases try or settle within your evaluation range. Armed with this information, you can work toward improving your valuations by observing trends.
Communication and Compliance with Reporting Deadlines
Few things will put you in the bad graces of a client faster than consistently failing to provide litigation reports. What may seem like arbitrary deadlines typically are not. A lawyer’s failure to report has a chain reaction. The person you report to is then unable to provide necessary information to her superiors, which has ramifications all the way up the corporate ladder. On the other hand, timely and thorough reporting ingratiates you with your client — and everyone looks good.
Even when no formal reports are due, are you regularly communicating with your client about the status of your cases? If your client is the one who typically calls or emails you asking what’s going on, you can be sure that you aren’t communicating with them as regularly as they’d like.
TIP: This is the easiest to monitor and track. Even basic calendar apps allow you to schedule reminders for reporting deadlines so that you are prompted when due dates approach.
Self-Awareness Leads to Better Practices
Your clients are auditing your performance based on the criteria important to them. Do you know what those criteria are? It may be important to know what others already know about you. If you have a good relationship with your clients, you may be able to obtain feedback about the performance metrics they use. If the feedback is positive, you will have a better idea of what to do to maintain positive results. If you get a negative assessment, you’ll at least be armed with the knowledge that you need to make changes.
The truth is, you should already have a good idea of whether your clients are satisfied with your work and whether you are obtaining positive results. Greater self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses in critical case management metrics will give you the opportunity to improve on good relationships and make adjustments if needed.
While there are legal technology tools that track various metrics, I find that simple Excel spreadsheets work well for my practice. The important thing is to start tracking and self-auditing, and learn what type of information is useful to you and your clients. Once you begin monitoring the data, you will have a better idea of what technology is worth investing in.
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