Sunday, January 17, 2010

How not to run a legal department

A couple of times over the last few years I have put Freedom of Information Act requests in to the City of Boston legal department to find out how much time and money that the in house counsel has spent on certain cases, such as the McCrea v. Flaherty case. (Which is still going on by the way, 4.5 years later, despite what the City Councilors would like you to believe. They are still spending money on it.)

At the request of a Dorchester resident, I recently asked the City legal department how much they have spent on the 99 Melville case, where the City is kind of arguing against their own zoning code on behalf of a politically connected family. This case has been going on for six or 8 years I believe.

The City's response to my request: "The City did not hire any outside counsel on this case, nor did the City incur or bill any other expenses regarding this case. Additionally, Assistant Corporation Counsels do not track work by the hour. As a result, the City does not have any records responsive in either of these regards."

In other words, the City doesn't keep track of its time so it has no idea how much it is spending on any case. Is there a law office in the private sector anywhere in the world which operates like this? How can they decide whether to settle a case or not? How can they figure out who is being efficient and who isn't? How can they know if anyone is getting anything done?

But of course, they don't want to know the answers to these questions because then actual performance reviews might take place, and accountability might kick in, and we can't have that at Boston City Hall.

Where is the Boston About Results for the City Law Department that Harvard Economics professors are crowing about in the Boston Globe? I run a tiny business, but I keep track of how much time I spend on every lawsuit I work on, and how much time and money is spent on every job. But then, like Tom Menino so graciously explained to me in the debates: I don't understand finance.

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