Lawyers love lists, especially checklists. They love having a specified list of elements that need to be proven or followed. Lists fit into the way they were trained in law school. It is likely that many of today’s lawyers were list driven even before going to law school.
It is no wonder that lists that rank law firms by any number of criteria are popular. Rankings of law firms based on their profits per partner, revenue per lawyer, or gross revenues get the attention of lawyers and law firm management alike. “League Tables” recognizing the noteworthy practices in a given substantive area are frequently followed, certainly by the law firms that have a place in or desire to make it to a League Table.
Sometimes law firm industry lists prove useful in marketing and recruitment; somewhat in the same way that a shiny car ad helps sell a car regardless of its quality. But evaluated in a vacuum, these lists or League Tables really don’t do much-they don’t determine whether a law firm serves its clients, pays its lawyers or observes its lawyer’s satisfaction grow. For one, as Roger Hayse has written, the lists often are based on logic that is unsound, data that can be misreported, manipulated or misinterpreted, or calculations that are skewed away from any probative conclusion. And the rankings or tables don’t last long-today’s lists or rankings are rendered obsolete as the calendar progresses and new ones are published.
So other than general amusement, do any of these lists or League Tables provide any lasting benefit to a law firm and its management? Although tempted to disclaim their utility in toto, in a very basic way these lists are valuable to law firms of any size in one simple respect-they make management think about its firm, its place in an industry that is ultra competitive, and ask about how its own firm’s performance can be improved.
When industry lists or tables prompt this introspection, good things can happen, including:
Internal Performance Is Assessed. Firms that make it to the top of the lists or tables get there because they perform well on the basis of some criteria. Their performance can be a function of many things, including a constant assessment of its attorneys, practice groups, internal business practices, culture and everything else that makes up a firm. Taking the time to internally look at your own house is good.
Industry Best Practices Are Studied. Imitation can be the highest form of flattery. It also can deliver results for the imitator. Other law firm’s best practices can be worth emulating. If something, such as an industry list, prompts management to look at how the best firms gain their advantage, the firm can be improved.
The Firm’s Strategic Vision Is Reviewed. Most firms that make the rankings are resolute in the pursuit of their overall strategy. While each firm has to find the strategy that suits it best, periodically taking stock of your firm’s strategy, its tactics in fulfilling the strategy, and the possible need to make adjustments, is positive. A newly published list or table can cause a firm to reassess its own strategy-clearly a helpful exercise.
Deferred Maintenance Is Addressed. From time to time most firms fall behind in dealing with lingering issues or problems. Firms that are reported high in the rankings tend to be better than others in minimizing the deferred maintenance. If a list or ranking acts as a call to action, the interests of the firm can be served.
Law firm industry lists can be interesting to read, fun to talk about and useful in marketing and recruiting. But they can also compel an internal examination that otherwise would go undone. For the typical law firm, which outcome is better?