Jordan Furlong, editor of the CBA The National and blogger, in his excellent blog post, The rise of good enough, points out that too many lawyers “value the exhaustive pursuit of perfection over the simple expedient of just getting it done” and examines the “perfection” versus “good enough” standard. 

This post resonates for me. For years I worked for a white shoe law firm where perfection reigned. One client, a former partner, confided that he had trouble managing the firm’s work because they insisted on leaving no stone unturned. He was willing to take the business risk to look only under the boulders.

This “perfect as the enemy of the good” attitude is pervasive in how lawyers think. I saw this when I set out to analyze the document review process. In 1989, I asked a basic question: how many documents per hour could a lawyer review. Lawyers routinely told me that they could not estimate this. (Of course, no one at that time had bothered actually tracking that key metric.) So I took a different tack. I started by saying, “I’ll assume you can review 100 documents an hour,” knowing that was surely too high. Lawyers were aghast and said that was too high. So I then said, ok, let’s assume 3. No that’s too low. Inevitably, these conversations led to an estimate of between 10 and 15 documents per hour.

It was clear that lawyers feared naming a number or range and then being found wrong. As Furlong suggests, there is an economic cost in driving to perfection and in failing to accept the risk of estimates. Clients could probably reduce their legal costs if they more consciously decided how much business risk they could accept and the amount of legal work required to manage that risk.