Whether you task outside counsel with predictable ongoing requirements, or you and your team send work out on an ad hoc basis, you need metrics to track performance as well as processes to keep your budget in line and deliverables appropriate.
Developing a systematic way to approach performance review can eliminate some financial uncertainty, assist your project managers and identify key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure efficacy. Good reviews can help you purge, if necessary, or overhaul the process you use with counsel to make it work better and more efficiently for you.
Outside Counsel Management: The Secrets to Great Reviews
There is no hard and fast rule regarding the ideal timing or depth of your review. These elements will depend on diverse factors, such as:
The size and scale of your own team. Do you have a Chief Operating Officer or Legal Operations Manager in house or not?
The length and stability of the relationship you have developed. For instance, have you worked with counsel for years and automated many aspects of the relationship, or are you still getting to know one another and trying to figure out how to work together?
The cycle and timing of the work. Are you engaged in long projects with relaxed timeframes or small projects with tight deadlines?
Whether you’ve encountered challenges with counsel before.
Whether you’re working with (or testing out) multiple attorney teams to determine best fit.
Whether regulatory or compliance requirements necessitate certain types of reporting.
The degree to which you’ve solidified your own business model. How well do you know what you need from outside counsel? Do you have a very clear idea of what the ideal relationship looks like, or are you still evolving your business and developing your processes?
In general, the more problems that you’ve had in the past (or you anticipate that you might have, based on experience), the shorter your review timeframes should be. Similarly, the less familiar you are with counsel and with your own processes and expectations, the more frequently you should conduct performance reviews.
Here are some tested tips for making your reviews successful (and as stress free as possible, given the stakes):
Quantify what’s expected of everyone involved.
As we touched on before, the more precisely you can identify your KPIs, the easier it is to give feedback. It’s lot easier to say “you didn’t meet such and such a number in quarter three” than it is to say, “we are generally unhappy with how you have been communicating.”
Solicit feedback both internally and externally to determine how the performance evaluation process can be made better.
Don’t assume. Ask good questions. Ask the people inside the processes to let you know what could be improved and what’s working well.
Document the performance review process.
Even if you’ve worked with outside counsel for a dozen years, and your people know their people intimately, document everything. That way, for instance, if a key stakeholder leaves, someone can easily fill in. Documentation also lets you improve the process over time. Write down exactly what happens (your “As Is” map). Separately determine exactly how the review should be conducted. Then build towards the better process.