Thursday, January 19, 2006

Law firm musings

As some of our regular readers know or can guess, I work at a big law firm. Most of the time, I enjoy my job, the hours notwithstanding. I certainly got lucky and have good cases that actually engage my brain; some of my poor colleagues don't have it that way and loathe their jobs for more than just the hours and the sense of always being on call.

As a big firm, we obviously pride ourselves on "excellence." But I'm starting to think that this obsessions, which we tout as one of our big selling points, really hurts our clients.

For example, a case I'm on is approaching trial right now, and it's a huge trial. We have a lot of stuff that needs to be done and done NOW.

I recently did a big memo, answering a bunch of questions. I sent it to a partner for review, who made no disagreements with my logic or my answer, but wanted me to make it more "concise" before it could be sent to those who need it. So I spent an extra four hours editing it - even though it contained the answers we needed and needed NOW, and even though during those four hours I could have been answering any one of the remaning 500 questions that need to be answered before trial.

Likewise when we write things. Sometimes we spend all-nighters editing documents for style, when these documents are trivial things that will be read by the clerk and filed. Debating whether we use the word "Thus" instead of "therefore."

At our billing rates, this seems ridiculous. Our clients pay us for results, not pretty memos with the words aligned just so, or for perfectly concise writing in internal memos.

At the end of the day, I shouldn't care - as long as I have work, I can bill hours, and leave it to the partners to explain to the client. But really, when our focus is to get the job done, if the internal steps aren't pretty, they'll at least be more cost-effective. I would hate to explain to a client that we lost an issue at trial because we couldn't research it because we were busy making a prior memo a work of art, rather than a functional tool.

1 comment:

steverford said...

I remember reading that when our new chief justice was working at a law firm, he was famous for his obsession with the style and grammar of memos and briefs, often keeping other employees at work well into the night polishing the documents up to his lofty standards. This also, of course, greatly increased the number of billed hours.