Apply Basic Management Disciplines To the Entire Business — Reject Legal’s Version of “Not Invented Here”


The Point

Under basic management disciplines:

  1. The customer learns the price they will pay in advance of the work being done.
  2. No one is assigned to do the work unless and until that person has been formally vetted as fully qualified to do the work.
  3. A one-person task is assigned to just one person.

The U.S. legal profession’s prevailing practices:

  1. Price is based on hours worked, so the customer can’t know what the price is until after the work has been done.
  2. Juniors / trainees are assigned to tasks and billed for hundreds per hour alongside attorneys who are fully qualified.
  3. Multiple lawyers are assigned to tasks, mixing fully qualified ones alongside juniors / trainees. This is an accepted revenue-enhancement strategy known as “associate leverage”.

The U.S. legal profession invokes what it calls “lawyer exceptionalism” to justify these departures from basic management disciplines, because, it contends, “Legal is different” from the other corporate functions and business units.

This Matters to Your Business

“‘Not invented here’ syndrome … is one of the most common forms of passive resistance to any reasonable organizational improvement or change in organizations everywhere in the world. Make no mistake, those who warn of the dangers of ‘not invented here’ pretend to be doing so in the best interest of the business. Yet, it is only their individual self-interest about which they care.”

So writes Steven Bleistein, an American-born, Tokyo-based management consultant whose work bridges Western and Japanese thinking, in his blog last week. He could have been directing his observation to the U.S. legal profession.

Dr. Bleistein directed this comment to a variety of circumstances where he is told that business techniques that work in outside of Japan simply can’t work inside Japan. As he puts it:

“‘Not invented here’ arguments can come in a variety of forms, but the core theme is always the same: it won’t work here because we’re different …”

Because …

Dr. Bleistein concludes:

“‘Not invented here’ exploits your fear of a possible misstep because of your ignorance of the provincial and the local, whereas, in reality, the ‘not invented here’ argument merely enables the ignorance outside the world of those who make it. Never allow their ignorance to become yours.”

The U.S. legal profession’s prevailing version of “not invented here” does not amount to a rational argument for exempting the corporate law function from basic management disciplines. It’s simply a means by which lawyers avoid discussion of those disciplines altogether.

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