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In-house grapple with efficiency lingo

In-house grapple with efficiency lingo

Some may call it semantics, but the issue of efficiency and its meaning has legal services experts' tongues wagging.

SOME may call it semantics, but the issue of efficiency and its meaning has legal services experts' tongues wagging. 

Ron Baker, the founder of legal services think tank VeraSage Institute, claims there is no point firms talking about efficiency for efficiency's sake. He compares efficiency to "effectiveness", and says firms should be striving for the latter. 

Efficiency focuses on doing things right, he said, while effectiveness  concentrates on doing the right things. 

While he concedes both are important, they can become mutually exclusive, he said. Baker said he can cite hundreds of cases where a decrease in measured efficiency still leads to an increase in effectiveness. 

However, he said on his blog recently, "I can't find many examples of where an increase in efficiency has increased effectiveness."

Efficiency, he said, is "always a ratio", expressed as the amount of output per unit of input. 

John Chisholm, director of law firm consultancy Chisholm Consulting, told The New Lawyer he agreed with Baker. 

Chisholm argues in-house counsel sometimes look at efficiency as a means to an end. He said what clients really want, despite some rhetoric to the contrary, is effectiveness. 

"There is a difference between efficiency for efficiency's sake and actually being efficient," he said. 

"Effectiveness is doing the right things, and more and more clients will expect their their lawyers to be effective and not necessarily efficient. In-house counsel want firms that are effective rather than efficient," he said. 

Chisholm argues that lawyers and legal commentators often forget that in-house lawyers are learning all the time how to value their law firms. 

Efficiency cannot be meaningfully defined without regards to your purpose, desires, and preferences, Baker advises law firm. 

"It cannot simply be reduced to output per man-hour. It is inextricably linked to what people want—and at what cost people are willing to pay."

Baker also throws another consideration into the mix. "Forget about efficiency. Worry about effectiveness. Better still, focus on efficaciousness; meaning having the power to produce a desired effect. This term is used to describe the miraculous power of many drugs since it suggests possession of a special quality or virtue that makes it possible to achieve a result—exactly what we are trying to accomplish in law firms for customers."

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