Each week I post a chapter from The KUJI Handbook. If you’d like to start from the beginning, here’s a link to Chapter 1. For more information about the book itself, see the description at the end of this article.
This chapter lists 10 ways in which quantifying a lawyer’s level of expertise enables law firms and their clients to work together more efficiently, and create workplaces that are more supportive of legal talent.
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I started Meisterline to solve one of the most pressing problems in the legal services industry today. It’s a problem few people have ever seriously thought about, even though it’s costing law firms and their clients billions of dollars globally every year.
This “elephant in the room” is our inability to measure how expert a lawyer really is. It’s one of the main reasons law firms misprice their attorneys, which happens more often than many people realise. It’s also the reason why clients struggle to understand what it is they’re actually paying for, sometimes with extremely costly consequences.
The market for legal expertise simply isn’t transparent enough for efficient, or even reliable, decision-making. We’re effectively flying blind when it comes to the one thing that every law firm tells us they sell: Their expertise.
But perhaps you’re thinking, “Surely, the legal profession has survived for centuries as it is. How can being able to precisely measure the expertise of lawyers make that much of a difference?”
I’d like to present 10 ways in which knowing a lawyer’s level of expertise can dramatically improve the financial performance and culture of law firms, and give clients greater choice, more bang for their legal budgets, and better legal outcomes.
If you know how expert a lawyer is before you hire them, you’ll make better hiring decisions. That’s as true for law firms looking for their next lateral candidates, as it is for clients seeking the best value-for-money outside counsel.
With quantitative expertise ratings anyone can now compare lawyers and find the ones that have the expertise they need for the price that makes the most sense.
Assessing other attributes of a lawyer or law firm is relatively straightforward. Having an accurate measure of their expertise reduces the risk of making costly hiring mistakes.
Law firms that know how expert their lawyers are, are better placed to create workplaces that are more diverse.
When we can focus objectively on lawyers’ levels of expertise and exclude gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other irrelevant factors from management decisions, lawyer diversity and increases in productivity will inevitably follow.
This in turn will boost morale and make the law firm more attractive to employees, and clients.
#3. Career Development
When a law firm knows precisely how expert each of their lawyers is, they can tailor their training and professional development programs to suit their specific developmental needs.
For Associates, this can speed up their career progression by keeping them constantly challenged, but not overwhelmed, by the tasks and projects on which they’re trained.
Combine this with better-informed supervision and mentoring, and a law firm has the ingredients to create a culture that lawyers won’t want to leave. This reduces lawyer turnover, especially among junior and mid-level attorneys.
When law firms can identify each task that requires lawyers with specific levels of expertise, they can then demonstrate how they’ve matched their lawyers to those tasks, giving clients immediate peace of mind.
This increases the likelihood that clients will pay their bills in full, because they know that efficient staffing practices have been followed.
This in turn leads to improved billing realisation rates and increased partner profitability.
By assigning the right levels of experts to the right tasks, law firms also become much more efficient businesses.
Not only will clients see the value in what they’re getting, law firms will avoid misallocating their legal talent, ensuring that their lawyers are taking on the right tasks and responsibilities for their levels of expertise.
This improved efficiency further enhances law firm culture and creates yet another point of differentiation in the legal services marketplace.
#6. Client Trust
By referencing their lawyers’ expertise ratings, law firms and clients can agree thresholds below which a lawyer’s time will not be charged, or will be heavily discounted.
This single act can instantly alleviate a client’s all-too-common concern that they’re paying for the training of inexperienced Associates.
It also makes clients feel that a law firm respects their needs and concerns, leading to increased client trust and loyalty.
When a law firm submits an RFI or capability statement for a client panel or in response to an inquiry about their lawyers, they can include in their submissions each lawyer’s expertise rating.
This can immediately differentiate a law firm from its rivals who continue to rely on traditional marketing narratives.
Clients also receive additional data points to help them with their legal procurement decisions, which benefits firms who understand the importance of management metrics.
#8. Hard Data
Senior managers in client organisations can quickly gain an advantage internally, when they know the expertise ratings of their lawyers.
When General Counsel or the legal procurement team have the quantitative data they need for detailed spreadsheets and internal business metrics, they can explain directly to C-suite decision-makers how they’re spending their legal budgets.
This ability to speak the language of the CFO by quantifying legal-spend decisions down to this level of detail, can give them greater influence and credibility within their organisation.
#9. In-House Teams
Managers of in-house legal departments are under immense pressure to get the most out of their legal budgets. They are also under increasing pressure to develop their own lawyers.
Knowing their lawyers’ levels of expertise leads to not only improvements in in-house professional development training, but also opens up opportunities to more effectively embed in-house attorneys within an outside legal team.
This gives them the opportunity to improve their legal projects’ cost-efficiency and grow their careers at the same time, providing a double bonus for in-house legal departments.
Lawyers love to compare themselves with their colleagues and rivals. This can be across a wide range of different dimensions of professional and personal life.
For both law firm managers and clients, being able to benchmark the expertise of their lawyers with other law firms creates incredible opportunities.
When virtually every lawyer in a law firm has an expertise rating, which allows them to be compared directly with competitors locally and across the globe, deeper analysis can yield unprecedented and highly actionable insights.
The KUJI Handbook is an essential primer for law firm leaders and clients who rely on legal experts. It covers all the core concepts underlying KUJI Ratings and the KUJI Rating Scale, including: The science behind this new standard for measuring legal expertise; what “KUJI” actually means; the practicalities of assessing the expertise of individual lawyers; the cognitive significance of being located within a specific KUJI Band; and, case studies that show how quantifying the expertise of lawyers can lead to more efficient lawyer pricing, measurable improvements in lawyer diversity, a better understanding of position titles in law firms, and invaluable benchmarking data across a wide range of legal service providers.
Peter Macmillan is one of the world’s leading authorities on the cognitive development of professional expertise. A former lawyer, he is Founder and CEO of Meisterline Analytics, creator of the KUJI® Rating System, and author of The KUJI Handbook and Unlocking the Secrets of Legal Genius: Measuring Specialist Legal Expertise Through Think-Aloud Verbal Protocol Analysis. Peter began his legal career as a Competition Law specialist in 1992. He went on to work for major corporate law firms and government authorities in both Australia and Hong Kong. In 2006, Peter resigned as Head of Competition Law at an international law firm and went on to complete a PhD in law and cognitive science. Then with the help of researchers, coding engineers and an ex-NASA scientist, he established the Meisterline Analytics Research Lab, which in 2016 launched the world’s first science-based rating system for independently and objectively measuring the expertise of lawyers.
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