Key non-performance indicator

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Key non-performance indicator
(Also “KNPI”) /kiː nɒn-pəˈfɔːməns ˈɪndɪkeɪtə/ (n.)

To be clear: not a key performance indicator, but key non-performance indicator.

A virtuous inversion of that measure of articulated fatuity, the key performance indicator. The “KNPI” measures the number of formal, pointless, bureaucratic procedures in your firm that serve only to nourish the rotten fiefdoms and layers of administrative sediment that undermine its aspiration of meeting the aspiration of its (equally fatuous) mission statement.

There is one key performance indicator that no firm in the western, eastern or for that matter southern hemisphere monitors: how many key non-performance indicators do you have.

Legal value

For legal eagles — especially inhouse ones, who struggle to show their worth at the best of times, there is a serious point here: how do you demonstrate your value to the organisation, in a way that the boxwallahs of the executive suite will understand?

Orthodoxy recommends key performance indicators, but these are for counting processes, not outcomes: materials, actions and widgets. They monitor the size but not the value of incoming and outgoing revenues: simple, formal, legible things that translate directly into the financial statements, but that give little information as to the organisation’s ongoing health.

It is a truth seldom acknowledged: the legal craft does not show up in that picture. At all.

Legal value resides as much in what you do not do as what you do.

The classic case: which is more valuable — resolving a client dispute by flawlessly managing six months of industrial-grade litigation, going to court and winning hands down, with costs, on all fronts — or the ten-minute call you put into the client when the incident happens to talk it off the ledge, apologise for the misunderstanding, make salutary amends and preserve the ongoing relationship, therefore avoiding any litigation at all?

Clearly the latter: but then: how to you demonstrate that? With what metric could you show all the trouble your legal department has avoided? How much value did it destroy (client relationship damage, cost, resources, organisational distraction) by failing to head off the claim, and instead engaging in flawless litigation?

It may sound lofty, but it is true: legal eagles don’t make widgets. Operations makes widgets. Any legal process you can fully operationalisecontract automation, for example — is no longer a legal process. Legal is not part of the operational stack.

Legal handles exceptions. To do this it requires judgment, experience and wisdom. How to you quantify wisdom? You can’t. Legal is — okay, okay, should be — distilled magic. That is why lawyers are expensive.

So here is where the “key non-performance indicator” comes into its own. Since you cannot measure the ineffable wonder a legal eagle brings to her task, you must instead measure its inverse. Where does her moondust fall upon stony ground? When are you flaring off that impish wizardry, rather than harnessing it towards the profitable good order of the firm? What can you do to keep a lawyer’s slate clean: to give her the time and space so she can work her wristy magic?

Not, it is submitted, by obliging her to complete dashboards, Gantt charts and monthly KPI reports.

KNPIs can help here: they can point your legal ops team to low-value things they should be minimising or getting rid of. All of these will be tedious;[1] many will be processes mandated in the first place by the legal ops team, so do not expect a vigorous programme of KNPI removals to commence any time soon.

The JC’s suggestions for KNPIs

See also


  1. This is an immutable law of the universe, enshrined in the JC’s third law of worker entropy.