Last week I posted an item, When Clients Come Knocking, that suggested law firms could take standard approaches to how they perform their work and that clients could, and should, “audit” these processes. So yesterday, I was struck by an article in the New York Times called Monitoring Calls in New World of Quality Assurance. It describes how customer call centers have started going beyond merely monitoring calls for service quality. They now use specialized software that records both the voice and computer data sessions with the goal of mining “customer interactions for insights into ways to improve their business.”

Supervisors and analysts can use the software to reconstruct customer interactions and see how well service reps performed. An airline uses it to check whether agents are sufficiently well trained always to find the lowest fare; hospitals or insurers use it to make sure their reps understand HIPAA requirements; and financial service companies use it to make sure “their employees are going by the book.”

So, why do I mention this? On the one hand, being a professional means exercising independent judgement about how to accomplish a task. On the other hand, I believe it is demonstrable that there are better (if not best) ways of doing certain tasks. Doctors are held to a high standard in how they perform their duties. As a junior management consultant years ago, joining with a class of MBAs from the leading schools, we were all pretty much told how to do a lot of tasks and closely supervised. Some of my friends have pointed out that the law is a guild. I’ve disagreed, saying that at least in the age of the guild, the seniors truly taught the juniors how to perform the craft.

The point is that few law firms establish best practices, much less even closely monitor how their lawyers perform the work. Anecdotally, I sense that more firms are hiring professional development directors and taking CLE and training more seriously, which is certainly a step in the right direction. I am not suggesting that firms use the software described in the Times article. But I think this article does illustrate the direction corporations are moving. And as client move to more rigorous analysis of their businesses, how long will it be before they expect the same of their service providers?

Of course, for firms that do want to move toward standard practices, technology will play an important role.