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Efficiency vs. Redundancy

My son owns a tree work company. Last week, several pieces of equipment had significant mechanical issues. The repairs are expensive, but even worse is that fact their work is hampered. He was scrambling to find and rent what he needed just to operate and generate revenue. At moments like that, it would be great to have back up equipment - redundancy, that is.

The problem with redundancy is that it's expensive. It's not efficient. If that costly bucket truck is not being used, it is not making money. The return on that investment is poor.

When my son and I talked about his business - as we often do - I told him that law firms have very similar issues.

Of course, lawyers don't use bucket trucks and chippers. Our assets are people, but we have the same tension between being efficient and having enough capacity so the practice can operate if there are disruptions or surges.

Lawyers and staff are expensive. You can't have employess who don't have enough work to do. On the other hand, being in a position where one person's absence will cripple your operations is risky.

Efficiency - being "lean and mean" - is often touted as the gold standard for business operations, including law firms, but there is clearly such a thing as being too lean. You need adequate resources to deal with expected contingencies. Some redundancy is necessary. Think of it as a safety net.

It's a tough balance and at any given moment most smaller firms (and some larger ones) will likely be at least a bit out of balance. Good law firm leaders must constantly be making such assessments and the necessary corrections.


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