Last week I met with some knowledge managers for large law firms. One reported that the General Counsel of an existing client, in connection with the firm possibly doing additional work, would be paying the firm a visit. The GC was coming for a full day to see how this firm “did KM.”

In my experience, this is unusual. But I think it’s a good idea. In-house counsel are increasingly concerned with the cost and effectiveness of their outside counsel. Budgets, alternate fee arrangements, and analysis of law firm bills only go so far in controlling costs. At least in more complex matters, these tools seem limited because it is so hard to know in advance exactly what tasks will be required and how long each should take. Consequently, paying attention to the process seems at least as important as evaluating the “outputs” such as results and costs. By this I mean that in-house counsel should pay attention to how their outside firms do work.

I suspect that if a GC visited several firms, he or she would see significant differences in the processes law firms use to work. One could even imagine formally analyzing the processes to determine best practices across firms. It seems likely that the firms using better processes will produce better results at a lower cost. So I commend this GC for taking the time to inspect in detail how a firm does it work. Perhaps if this happened with regularity, firms would invest more in training their lawyers, analyzing how they work, and developing standard approaches and best practices. And that would likely significantly lower costs while improving results. Of course, in this scenario, various technologies would play an important role.