I am a big fan a accountability. There is a lot that doesn’t happen when no one is accountable. Create a committee and there will be a bunch of meetings. Tell someone they are responsible and will be rewarded (“carrot”), punished (“stick”) or both (“carrot and stick”), and something will get done. In my experience, the busier someone is, the more likely the carrot alone will not work. Why, you might ask, is this relevant to client service.
So often, no one at law firms is accountable for key issues such as diversity, client service, using technology for the client’s benefit or restructuring billing arrangements to reflect the value of the service to the client. I’ve seen this firsthand and talked about it with a number of people inside law firms and inside corporate legal departments. In this vein, I thought Robin Sparkman’s Editor’s Note in the May issue of Corporate Counsel was so very interesting. She notes that its rare for law firms to be fired because of poor track records in diversity, technology offerings or use of alternative fee arrangements. She mused that too often corporate counsel’s complaints in these areas are mere “window-dressing” and that “if in-house lawyers continue to huff and puff without really meaning it, its hard for law firms to take them seriously ….”
Maybe in-house lawyers have used the carrot (“more business”) when they should be using the stick (“no business”). Growing up, I was taught that “money talks and bullshit walks-in more polite language, the stick works and the carrot doesn’t. Unless my life experience is radically at odds with the way the world really works, broad, industry-wide change will occur when business moves to those who walk the walk instead of jaw boning.