Best Practice: Using law firm economic and other surveys
Asked and Answered
By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Q. I am the firm administrator for a 16 attorney firm in Memphis. I am new to the field and just started with this firm. I have been asked to conduct some preliminary law firm economic research and obtain - purchase if necessary - survey data on the subject. Do you have any suggestions concerning using such surveys?
A. The use of sound secondary research surveys can be invaluable and can assist firms in their quest for “best practices.” While law firms should strive to use surveys that meet the test of sound research, this is not always possible since no other source of information may be available. In other words – some information may be better than no information at all. In such situations law firms may decide to use research surveys that do not satisfy sound research guidelines. Such information can still be useful for exploratory analysis and when the information will be used for “benchmark” purposes. However, it is important for the firm to keep in mind the limitations of the study.
Many of the national law firm management surveys are designed to provide the information necessary for law firm management to evaluate their firm’s performance relative to comparable law firms. Statistics included in these studies represent broad performance benchmarks against which an individual firm can be measured. Law firms can use this information to compare their firm’s performance with other firms as a whole, as well as with firms of similar size, geographic location, population, practice specialty, etc. Keep in mind that the objective of such comparisons is to identify potential “red flags” that warrant additional investigation. Deviations between your firm’s figures (for any performance measure) and figures in the survey is not necessarily good or bad. It merely runs up the red flag which alerts you investigate further. Information in these surveys should be used as guidelines rather than absolute standards.
There are numerous considerations that should be investigated when acquiring and using secondary research. Due the extent and complexity of these considerations rather than outline these here is a link to an article that I wrote on the subject that provides a good outline, checklist and tool for using secondary research.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC,(www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.