Leaderboards — a concept that came from sports and video games and was later adapted to business contexts, including sales organizations — can be an effective tool for driving improvement in law department administration. This type of leaderboard is a ranking of different “players” based on objective, measurable criteria. The players can be in-house attorneys, managers, outside counsel firms, or any person or group involved in your organization’s legal work. However, a good leaderboard is limited to one type of player to allow for apples-to-apples ranking.

While there are several types of metrics that can help legal departments improve operations, leaderboards can be superior to “standard” reporting in a few ways:

Leaderboards have a call-to-action built in

Unlike some other ways of presenting business metrics, leaderboards are not just descriptive but normative. That is, they not only show players what the facts are but also contain an implicit challenge to take action and raise, or at least maintain, one’s position in the rankings.

To illustrate, contrast the following two presentations of metrics, only the second of which is a leaderboard. Both represent the degree to which matters managed by individual in-house counsel comply with the organization’s budgeting policy. In the first example, we see that Baumgart’s compliance percentage is only 42%. Pretty bad, huh? Except, as the second example illustrates, it’s not. The second example shows that Baumgart is actually doing well, comparatively.

Example 1

Example 1: Standard report

Example 2

Example 2: Leaderboard

The power of Example 2 is that it’s sure to light a fire under the likes of Romano by starkly showing him just how poorly he compares to his colleagues. It isn’t necessary to sit down and explain it to him — his goal should be obvious.

Leaderboards need concrete, measurable goals

Leaderboards force the law department to come up with concrete goals that can be objectively measured, potentially down to the level of each individual contributor. In the example above, a budget compliance percentage was calculated for each in-house attorney. In order to get to that point, the law department must have created an official budgeting policy with terms so unambiguous that compliance with it can be mathematically calculated. For instance, let’s say that, in order to achieve compliance:

  • Each matter must have a budget in the eBilling system at least 30 days prior to EOM
  • The amount of the last budget must exceed current YTD spend
  • The budget must have been approved by in-house counsel prior to a cutoff date

The budget compliance percentage is the percentage of matters managed by each attorney that meet all three criteria.

That kind of mathematical rigor is not found in all departmental goal setting, especially in a form that can be calculated down to the level of measuring individual performance. But building goals into leaderboards requires that rigor and avoids the pitfalls of fluffy, ambiguous goals where measuring achievement is more a matter of departmental politics than mathematics.

Leaderboards harness positive peer pressure

Finally, leaderboards can potentially alleviate some of the cat-herding headaches legal professionals might otherwise face. Rather than having to chase down individual attorneys or other players to explain departmental policies and ask for better adherence, you may find that simply publishing the leaderboards causes the cats to become self-herding.

This is especially true in Example 2 above, where budget compliance is tracked not only at the individual level but by practice group (the Labor & Employment group vs. the Litigation group). Because the statistics roll up to the group level, poor performance by any individual hurts their entire group. While it is still probably best to coach poor performers toward better compliance, you may find that the practice group manager is one step ahead of you and has already had that conversation. A message from colleagues who a player faces every day may be more effective than the same message from a legal ops person with whom they seldom interact.

It’s important to know which tools and actions are best suited to helping you meet your goals for the legal operations team. And leaderboards are a key tool for encouraging great performance by individuals and teams within the department. To learn more about offerings that help you present data in the most effective ways, visit the LegalVIEW® Dashboards page.

About The Author

Nathan Cemenska

Nathan Cemenska, JD/MBA, is the Director of Legal Operations and Industry Insights at Wolters Kluwer's ELM Solutions. He previously worked in management consultancy helping GCs improve law department performance and has prior experience as a legal operations business analyst.

In past lives, Nathan owned and operated a small law firm and wrote two books about election law. He holds degrees from Northwestern University, Ohio State University, and Cleveland State University.