In Part 1 of this post, I noted how law firms had become so adept at creating “noise” about various topics, focusing on client service and alternative fee arrangements. In Part 2, I identified 5 questions a General Counsel could ask to help separate signal from noise so she or he would know who is for real and who has ramped-up their marketing efforts to sound like a firm that is for real. In this final part, I share 5 additional questions that should help separate signal from noise (which is why I start with number 6).
6. What is the average cost of a deposition taken by your firm? Not the preparation, just the deposition itself.
There is a lot of ways to go to actually answer this one–the average billing to a client for a deposition, the average length of the deposition (so you could multiply by an hourly rate in your head), or the firm’s actual cost. I think the fairest one of these, one that everyone should know, is the average of the amounts billed to a client, but knowing any of these is enough to earn a gold star. The betting line is that most outside lawyers do not know any of these.
7. Can I see three samples of Early Case Assessments?
Don’t ask if the firm does ECAs–of course they do (wink, wink). You will get noise in response. If you want signal, ask for three examples. And if you get three, how close in form do the three look? If the forms vary more than might be explained by the difference in cases, you have an indication that different people do things differently within the firm. That may not be disqualifying, but it is worth knowing when someone from the firm talks about “the firm” doing things a certain way.
8. At the same time, can I see three After Action Assessments and how those were communicated to the client?
Most firms say they do A3s (noise). Few do (signal). Those that do A3s will happily share the results, what lessons were learned, how their client reacted and so forth–because they will have experienced the power of structured After Action Assessments. Everyone else will flounder on this: very few firms have embraced the notion that mistakes happen and provide an opportunity for improvement. I discuss A3s in more detail here. If A3s are not communicated to clients, or are not done with full client involvement, how is the firm helping the client learn? Not including a client in the process is the surest sign that a firm’s statement that it “partners” with clients is just more noise.
9. What is an area where your firm led innovation? Where it was at the front end of change?
10. Tell me about your approach to project management, process mapping and use of checklists? Can I see examples?
The noise is “of course we use project management. Of course there is a process. Of course there are checklists.” Seeing is believing, so ask to see them. When you have them in hand, you have signal.
I hope these questions are helpful. Law firms are so very good at the quality of their noise that they actually believe it. Sadly, you can either be a victim of the noise or you are forced to take steps to separate the signal from the noise.