What’s The Most Confusing U.S. Code? How Law Firms Can Make Simple Rules For Complex Legal Work

Nobody would dare to call our laws simple. But exactly how complicated are they?

In a working paper titled “Measuring the Complexity of the Law: The United States Code”, Daniel Katz and Michael Bommarito of Michigan State University attempt to measure exactly that, reports Wired magazine.

It may seem impossible—in the least, it’s daunting—the idea of quantitatively measuring the complexity of the United States Code, especially coming up with a metric for exactly how hard it is to understand the law.

As lawyers know, the U.S. Code is essentially the collection of all federal laws, and consists of 51 Titles, or sections, that each deal with different topics, some of the most well-known including, Title 11 for bankruptcy, Title 26 for the tax code, and Title 39 deals for the postal service.

The authors used two metrics, rule search and rule assimilation to measure the complexity of law. Respectively, the terms answer: “How complex is the task of determining the rule or set of rules applicable to the conduct in question?” and “How complex is the process of assimilating the information content of a body of legal rules?”

What were their findings? After ranking the codes according to rule search and rule assimilation, as well as other metrics, the study found Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare) to be the most complex and interconnected of the U.S. Codes. Unsurprisingly, this Code tied with Title 26, or the Internal Revenue Code, which is especially frustrating to Americans this month.

It comes down to some simple rules to define a complex world. The same could be said of your law office management.

Although building a mission statement and outlining your ideal corporate culture is important, a short set of simple rules may help your firm implement its more complex business strategy.

A new book titled Simple Rules by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt lays out an old concept. A concept that Sull and Eisenhardt presented in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) back in 2001. “Successful companies shape their high-level strategies by relying not on complicated frameworks but on simple rules of thumb,” wrote the authors in HBR in 2012.

“Managers in these organizations translate corporate objectives into a few straightforward guidelines that help employees make on-the-spot decisions and adapt to constantly shifting environments, while keeping the big picture in mind.”

A strategy must be remembered and understood to be adopted by associates.

So to create, capture, and sustain economic value, law firms should consider distilling their strategy into a few, simple rules.

The book uses the example of a Brazilian freight train, America Latina Logistica, company that was rapidly losing money. It implemented the following simple rules:

  • remove obstacles to growing revenues,
  • minimize up-front expenditure,
  • provide benefits immediately (rather than paying off in the long term), and
  • reuse existing resources.

And the company communicated these simple rules to its employees.

Upon hearing these simple rules and—consequently—understanding them, an employee spoke up to management and proposed a very simple idea that cost the company nothing—upgrade the size of its fuel tanks so the refueling process would take less time.

When your employees understand the prioritizes of the firm, they are better able to contribute to its growth.

In law, it’s easy for associates to get bogged down in the details, the complexity of it all. Make it simple. Distill your message into short, specific, and memorable rules like (1) Always conduct client meetings in-person; (2) ensure one senior partner is present in all client meetings; (3) cross-sell services; and (4) ask for referrals at the end of meetings so the client remembers to do so as he or she walks out of the room.

This very crude version of a strategy prioritizes certain behavior, is easy to remember, and applicable to a very specific situation—client meetings.

Read more in Simple Rules, which comes out April 21.

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