Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.
If there's anything that can get a New Englander through another brutal winter, it's the phrase "pitchers and catchers report." Even though the season doesn't start for another 48 days, the fact that baseball activities are beginning in Florida and Arizona tells us that we've almost made it.
While I'm here pondering baseball, the debate continues in legal circles (and other professional circles, too) about "alternative fees" versus hourly billing. And it's good to have the debate, since lawyers have quietly plodded along with this business model since it was invented in 1919. Debate clears the way for change. But with that said, many who claim to be advocating for change are actually riding off in the wrong direction. They may mean well, but they have overlooked the big-picture problems that are crippling the profession. You can spot them by some of their buzzwords.
- project management
- Six Sigma
- Lean Six Sigma
- Big-Boned Six Sigma (I may have made that up)
- fee caps
- hybrid fees
- risk collars
- blended rates
- timesheets (to see if their jobs are "profitable")
- realization rates
and my personal favorite:
Wait ... what? How can efficiency be a bad thing? Don't clients want their lawyers to be efficient?
Newsflash, people. Clients don't give a flying something through a rolling donut about whether their lawyers are efficient. (Unless they bill by the hour; then it's all about efficiency.) No: Clients want their lawyers to be effective. Am I quibbling about words here? Of course I am; I'm a lawyer. Words are my hammers and nails.
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (the only US dictionary worth a damn), efficient means "achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense." Effective means "successful in producing a desired or intended result." Which do you think clients care more about?
Look a little deeper at NOAD's usage entry at effective, where it says that the words are not interchangeable:
Use effective when you want to describe something that produces a definite effect or result ….
When applied to people, efficient means capable or competent (: an efficient homemaker) and places less emphasis on the achievement of results and more on the skills involved.
What I am not saying is that lawyers and other professionals shouldn't try to work efficiently. Hell, if I could train a service monkey to type this for me instead of bashing it out with my two clumsy index fingers, my Blog-Writing Project-Management Efficiency Index would go up an entire Sigma. (Yeah, I have no idea what that sentence means either.) But that would have absolutely zero impact on whatever (questionable) value you the reader get from reading this post. The value is in the result, not the work. Not in how efficient I was, but how effective I was.
What does this have to do with baseball? Longtime readers know that I'm a big Red Sox fan. And they wouldn't be surprised to know that I'm very excited about the 2011 season. The Sox made a huge trade for Adrian Gonzalez, sending prospects to the San Diego Padres for the star first baseman with a swing built for Fenway. They also snagged the top free agent on the market, Carl Crawford. And they also rebuilt their bullpen, a major weakness last season. Because of all this spending, the Sox will sport one of the highest payrolls in baseball, and will be one of only a few teams subject to the league's payroll tax.
If I cared about efficiency, I'd be pretty upset about this profligate spending. But all I care about it is winning, and I know that the team has put itself in a strong position to do just that.
Last season, the most efficient team in baseball — in terms of payroll dollars per win — was the San Diego Padres. They led the league in efficiency, paying a mere $419,000 per win. (Compare that to the Yankees, who shelled out $2.17 million for each W.) The Padres finished in second place in the NL West, outside of the playoffs. Think their fans are happy with the team's efficiency title? Think again.
People who worship at the altar of efficiency, who prostrate themselves before the idols of project management and Six Sigma Yellow Belts, who speak volumes on efficiency and nothing on effectiveness — they're focusing on the wrong things. They're looking at the work, not the result. They're paying attention to the lawyers, not the clients.
Unlike baseball fans, they're not focused on the wins.