What is Quality?

May 9, 2013 | Author: admin | Category: Uncategorized | Comments (0)

Several posts to this Blog have discussed the concept of “quality”, in referring to the quality of legal services. Generally, comments involved the fact that almost all law firms market predominantly on the provision of quality services. In general, the quality of legal services, if one believes multiple surveys of general counsel over the last 10-12 years, is now more or less assumed. There are very good reasons for this assumption, which is actually not the topic of this posting.

The question here is whether there are general distinctions in quality which are inherent in the delivery of legal services. If a law firm has developed, over a period of years, a sophisticated and experienced capability in a particular area of law or industry, then some reasonably high level of quality in a related engagement can be assumed. But is the delivery of the services, the “final product”, negatively impacted by the way in which the engagement is managed by the law firm?

Consider two simple examples, the first of which is more traditional and more typical. In this example, the engagement (litigation or transactional) is staffed by a lead partner (in current popular vernacular, the “project manager”), who then determines the analytical and document needs of the assignment and assembles, by various means, a number of lawyers and legal assistants who she believes will be sufficient to complete the engagement. Because of the way law firms are staffed by lawyers, a number, perhaps a majority, of the lawyers will be associates, or junior lawyers. It is usually a requisite that these relatively inexperienced lawyers be utilized in an engagement (and bills sent to clients for their time), since they are paid substantial salaries and the overhead costs to maintain each of them is not insubstantial (in general, about the same as for a senior lawyer).

These associate attorneys are generally assigned, depending on their seniority, certain legal research, document drafting and document review responsibilities. Because of their inexperience, however, they will naturally make mistakes that more senior lawyers would avoid, and therefore their work product must be closely monitored and reviewed by senior lawyers. This takes time, and it is not unusual for the second round of effort to produce or identify additional errors. This is of course an inefficient process (which takes time and therefore, if billing by the hour, more expensive), and it is inherent, notwithstanding various monitoring efforts by senior lawyers, that not all mistakes will be identified and then rectified. As a result, quality suffers.

Contrast the foregoing example with an engagement in which the only lawyers participating at every level of work are more senior (or at least senior to associates). Assuming that the senior lawyers have the requisite experience, fewer mistakes or errors will occur and less time will be expended in the course of performing various tasks, and, because experienced lawyers will be the only providers of the services, the quality will be greater.

This very simple example indicates that quality can be affected by staffing. What is not discussed in this posting are the long term impact of not having inexperienced lawyers assigned to the engagement for the purpose of gaining experience and the importance of the project manager having experience in recognizing how to staff and manage engagements. And, of course, there is the issue of the impact of the use of this system on price. Those are topics for another day.

[The author of this post is Wynne James]


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