• March 21, 2010

Lawyers in private law firms are generally very familiar with the controversy in law firm management regarding the proper alignment of individual lawyer incentives with the law firm’s goal of maximizing overall profitability — and the widespread model known colloquially as “eat what you kill.”  Firms confront the challenging puzzle of crafting a compensation system that provides the optimal balance between “incentivizing” individual efforts and collective contributions.

This problem (and the cynicism and sanctimoniousness that arise in response to it) is not limited to law firms, of course.  Interestingly, an analogous controversy has bubbled into the public discourse among the police in a controversy between the Rochester Chief of Police and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA).

Should a police department get to “eat what it kills” when it seeks forfeiture of ill-gotten assets in criminal cases (drug dealers, etc., etc.)?  What incentives does that create and do these incentives change the conduct of law enforcement officers?  The Rochester Chief of Police testified on the subject in connection with proposed legislation targeted at shifting the model and changing the incentives.  The MPPOA took very strong exception to his testimony.  There was an exchange of letters thereafter (see here and here) (unsolicited suggestion to Chief Peterson: consider a less florid font for a hardly florid subject matter?).

The Rochester Post-Bulletin coverage is here.

The role of economic self-interest in decision-making is not generally challenged when laid bare.  It’s a fundamental assumption of our economy and our society.

As for MPPOA’s indignation, see Hamlet Act 3, Scene II (“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”)

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