The legal talent matrix

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Ron Friedmann at the Strategic Legal Technology blog has a terrific new post that should shift a few paradigms about how in-house counsel deploy legal talent to tackle various tasks. Ron crossed an x-axis that plotted the complexity of work with a y-axis that plotted the volume of work, and ended up with what he calls “a classic management consultant’s 2-by-2″ — a graph that charts the most appropriate type of talent solution for different types of legal challenges.

The result is eye-opening and provocative. The majority of space in the chart is given over to legal providers other than in-house lawyers or outside counsel. Low-volume, low-complexity tasks are best solved by checklists; high-volume, low-complexity tasks can be addressed through automated systems. In-house and outside counsel are reserved only for high-complexity tasks, but half of that sector is occupied by temps, paraprofessionals and offshore legal talent. The dominant takeaway from the diagram is that there are a whole lot of ways to solve your legal problem, and (expensive) traditional lawyers constitute a minority of them.

Ron notes that “[e]ach person likely would draw the circles/ellipses elsewhere,” and indeed, I’d be inclined to enlarge the “temp” oval and shrink the “offshored” circle, among other adjustments. But those differences of opinion don’t detract from the fact that this is a groundbreaking way to look at the assignment of legal tasks to the appropriate level of talent. Legal departments might be already doing this on a de facto basis, but they should take steps to formalize it in this fashion; I fully expect they would be rewarded with cost and efficiency savings.

But really, it’s law firms that should seriously think about revising their own workflow processes in light of this matrix. A similar diagram reflecting current work assignments at most law firms would be an ungainly, unsightly mess of partners and associates doing work that’s beneath their level of talent and experience, but that generates revenue because it’s time-intensive. Apply this kind of workflow discipline to your average law firm, and all hell would break loose. Maybe it’s about time it did.

One more thing: Ron’s matrix as pictured necessarily suggests that the quantity of work in each quadrant is equal, although I’m sure he would agree that that’s not the case. In-house and especially law firm lawyers would be unpleasantly surprised, I think, to know just how small (albeit potentially lucrative) the high-volume, high-complexity quadrant really is. If clients start reformatting their legal tasks according to templates like this, the paucity of work that will flow to highly paid lawyers is going to come as a rude awakening to a lot of people in this profession.

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