The ACC Value Index

The ACC Value Index

We live in an age when consumers rate everything from restaurants to toaster ovens and movies on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Netflix, and hundreds of other web sites.  In this environment, is inevitable that law firms too would be rated online.  In October 2009, the Association of Corporate Counsel introduced its Value Index, an online forum that ACC members use to share ratings of law firms.

From a project management perspective, the single most important fact about this index is that outside counsel are rated on these six factors:

  • Understands objectives/expectations
  • Responsiveness/communication
  • Legal expertise
  • Efficiency/process management
  • Predictable cost/budgeting skills
  • Results delivered/execution

Law firms that wish to increase client satisfaction would be wise to focus on these same six factors when they deliver services and when they evaluate them.

However, there has been controversy over the actual ratings in ACC's database.  Many law firms have been less than thrilled with the whole idea.   Around the time this was announced, an article entitled "ACC rating index unnerves firms" quoted Fred Krebs, then president of ACC, as saying "It's like a Zagat for law firms."  They also noted that "These words ... may well send a chill down the spine of many a private practice lawyer."

As of the date I wrote this post, the ACC web page summarized 4,787 reviews of 1,251 firms.  On the six factors above, the average rating was 4.4 on a scale from 1=Poor to 5=Excellent.  When asked "Would you use this firm again?" 92.8%  of respondents said yes.

One concern raised by law firms is their lack of access to the ratings.  According to a set of FAQs on the ACC web page, "Law firms cannot view complete evaluations without express permission from the members who submitted them."  There are, however, ways for firms to view "aggregated scores," which are explained in the FAQs.

By their nature, online ratings are based on biased samples from people who care enough to take the time to respond.  According to a recent Scientific American article, online reviewers:

evangelize what they love and trash things they hate. These feelings lead to a lot of one- and five-star reviews of the same product. 

The result, according to research from the Wharton School, is that for online ratings:

the wisdom of crowds may neither be wise nor necessarily made by a crowd.  Its judgments are inaccurate at best, fraudulent at worst.

Others argue that online reviews provide valuable information.  The appeal of such systems is obvious to anyone who has ever bought a book on Amazon.

Personally, I am skeptical of the value of online ratings, but I use Amazon ratings and others all the time to decide what to buy, simply because they are so convenient.  I try to remember take the extreme ratings - pro or con - with a large grain of salt.  Law firms can only hope that their clients will take this same cautious approach.

This post was adapted from the second edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

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