Paul Lippe, founder and CEO of Legal Onramp and ABA Journal Legal Rebels series contributor, asks a great question: Where Are the Legal Jeremy Lins?

He writes in a March 13th article so titled

“How often in law do we look at what really happens with something we do (outcomes), versus how much we do and what other lawyers think? As a result, we have too few Jeremy Lins: too few lawyers who can confound expectations and deliver outcomes rooted in truly superior performance… So we end up with what might be called the Gladwell effect, where reputation drives reputation.”

To overcome this problem, to identify the legal superstars, Paul argues that we need metrics on outcomes. I agree that we need data, not just precedent, not just supposition, not just word of mouth.

Jeff Carr, Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary of FMC Technologies wrote a comment that I like because it expands on the idea of outcomes (reproduced with his permission):

“You know, I almost missed this column because of the title. It’s not that I don’t know about professional or college sports, it’s that I truly don’t care about them. Thankfully, this column was brought to my attention and there is much here to ponder.

As the leader of a legal team that constantly evaluates performance and compensates the players (inside and outside counsel and LPO’s) according to that performance, I humbly think we’re pretty good at this. And I’m just arrogant enough to assert that I think we’ve helped make the lawyers that we work with better lawyers. They are not better lawyers because we’ve somehow made them smarter, or technically better—no—they are better because I think and hope we’ve taught them the keys to outstanding customer service. As Paul points out, that’s all about outcomes—but outcomes are not simply “winning”. Outcomes to us means helping us achieve our objectives (“effectiveness”) while delivering value (“efficiency” and “predictive accuracy”), and while adopting and reflecting our culture. (“communication”, “teamwork”). While we also measure the technical trade-craft of law (“knowledge”), that criteria is actually not as important to us than the others—instead it’s kind of like the entry stakes to being on our legal team. In the somewhat weird parallel universe of lawdom, somehow knowledge is elevated by the practitioner more than customer delight. Hence a world where peer evaluations reign supreme when customer perceptions is really what matters. I’m sure all the folks at Kodak thought physical film would similarly reign supreme—in other words, if your feedback loop of customer value doesn’t really involve customers, you’d better look out for the meteor that’s going to wipe out your business model.

Paul’s right, defining expectations and delivering to those expectations makes for good lawyering. Exceeding those expectations to the delight of the customer is what makes for truly exceptional customer service and therefore outstanding lawyering.

Jeff reinforces my recent posts on improving the client experience at large law firms. I wrote a comment that expands on both Jeff’s and Paul’s points:

“In the world of corporate law departments and large law firms, legal outcomes must be measured relative to a joint assessment of the expected outcome at the matter outset. For example, winning a $100M judgment sounds great unless you had a strong expectation that $500M was far more likely.

Corporate clients must take an evidence-based approach to evaluating law firm results. That means analyzing e-billing data to assess performance cross-sectionally (across firms) and longitudinally (same firm over time). This requires characterizing each matter for difficulty and expected v. actual outcome – a worthwhile exercise to evaluate outcomes.

I’m also with Jeff Carr on his broader view of “outcome”. Along with “legal outputs” such as advice, settlement, judgment, or a contract comes the experience of working with lawyers. The experience includes the overall cost, how closely the cost came to the predicted budget, the efficiency of the work, the quality and frequency of communication, and the transparency of the undertaking. Surveys get at the attributes Jeff describes.

Law firms should collect data to measure the multiple aspects of “service delivery” and the “client experience”. (I wrote a blog post a week ago explaining Why BigLaw Needs a Chief of Client Experience.)

Unless both clients and law firms empirically evaluate outcomes andexperience, we can’t identify the Jeremy Lins among lawyers. We are left simply with “reputation drives reputation.”

Empiricism may, however, not be enough. We also need a change in GC job security and personal-risk assessment: If the GC fears for her job because an outcome is bad and she did not select a white shoe law firm, in spite of the data showing other firms were as good, then all the data in the world won’t make a difference. So the CEO, CFO, and COO have to buy into the evidence-based outcomes approach.”