Vanity metrics for lawyers

Periodically, we all fall into productivity and performance ruts or the feeling of career stagnation. One reason for this is our reliance on vanity metrics. While these metrics may make us feel good temporarily, they do little to improve our business and skills as lawyers.

Kevin Cheung

Periodically, we all fall into productivity and performance ruts or the feeling of career stagnation. One reason for this is our reliance on vanity metrics. While these metrics may make us feel good temporarily, they do little to improve our business and skills as lawyers. 

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are metrics to gauge progress toward a goal. However, not all metrics were created equal. There are some that measure the wrong thing and do nothing to inform strategic decisions to achieve targets. These are superficial and non-actionable metrics. They might make you look good to the uninformed, but, in the long run, they will not get you anywhere. They are vanity metrics.

Vanity metrics have been a frequent topic of discussion in online marketing circles, but not so much for lawyers. Lawyers, especially those running their own business, can ill afford to waste time on vanity metrics. The following are some to be mindful of.       

Billable hours and hours spent in the office

The billable hour, or even worse, the total hours spent in the office, are probably the biggest vanity metrics to which lawyers succumb.

For one, many lawyers are measured by billable hours. It is an easy way to calculate the monetary value a lawyer adds to a firm. The profession has also historically worn long hours as a badge of pride. However, there are only so many hours in a day one can bill, and accrued hours are meaningless if a lawyer is consistently over-billing clients or spending an unreasonable amount of time on a matter.

Further, clients are demanding, and the legal industry is rapidly embracing, alternative fee arrangements.   

Rather than billable hours, measuring client satisfaction may provide better data to help a lawyer improve. Satisfaction would include results achieved, client loyalty, repeat clients and future referrals from previous clients. Measuring these may help you better determine how to improve client relations to lay the foundation for a long-lasting relationship that can be a source of revenue. 

Marketing dollars spent

Another metric often viewed incorrectly is the amount spent on marketing. A marketing budget is meaningless without analyzing the return on those dollars. One could say that they have three business lunches per week, but without knowing if those lunches generated potential clients, it is money and time down the drain. 

Community engagement — whether articles in publications, advertisement, speaking opportunities or other events — is done with some hope of generating referral sources. As such, it is insufficient to devote time and energy to such activities without tracking which ones result in potential clients (this highlights the importance of always asking a potential client how they found you).

Experience or number of files

Another useless metric is the number of years a lawyer has practised or the number of files they have.  These do little in helping determine how to increase revenue or improve as a lawyer. There are senior and busy lawyers who are not so good and lawyers with limited experience or fewer files who are excellent.   

Social media followers

One metric on which people are commonly fixated these days is the number of social media followers one has or the number of likes one gets on an online post. These are vanity metrics because they do not provide you with any information on the engagement of followers. People follow you for any number of reasons, but the mere fact they do does not provide you with any actionable data. Drilling deeper into posts that actually inspire engagement — comments or shares — will provide you with more information about the type of content in which followers or the public at large are interested. This will help you develop content tailored to your audience.

Because the goal of KPIs or metrics is to provide you with data to take action, do not overwhelm yourself with dozens. Rather, focus on two or three for a period of time. This will allow you to focus on specific areas in which you want to see results. 

Measuring your progress toward goals is important for any lawyer interested in improving their practice.  However, measuring the wrong thing can lead one astray and provide a false sense of satisfaction that will ultimately result in stagnation. Keep this at bay by avoiding vanity metrics, and focus on data that actually matters. 


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