How do you get buy in for technology tools that make legal work more efficient from people who are being “measured” by the number of hours they bill?
This is not a silly question for those of us working in this field. I can sit here all day and talk about the benefits of using technology to get some of these tasks out of the way quicker, so they can spend time on the more interesting aspects of law, but if you’re an associate struggling just to met your billable hour goals, what’s more likely to motivate you? Yeah, something that takes longer!
Which, of course, just goes to show the inherent problem with the billable hour as the measuring stick. Efficiency is punished, not rewarded. As I’ve said many times about helpdesk tickets, you will get what you measure. If you measure the number of tickets, you’ll get closed tickets, but not good support service. If you measure billable hours, you’ll get hours, but not productivity. Plus, if you’re in a firm that is doing more alternative fee arrangements, you will find that efficiency is rewarded on those matters, while also being punished on matters where you bill by the hour.What’s an attorney to do?
Throw on top of the situation the ever-growing demand by clients to be more efficient, and you’ve got a real mess on your hands.
Now, as someone who has always worked at a faster pace than most, I’ve seen where this actually gets punished even outside of a billable hour arrangement. I’m not trying to brag, when faced with a repetitive tasks I’ve always managed to find a groove and get my share of it done faster than others. This, of course, only leads to doing more work than other people, as you typically finish before they do and are asked to pick up the slack. Even outside of a production environment, people who can manage their time well, and keep on top of their workload are often “rewarded” with more work, because they seem less busy than those who don’t manage their time and workload well.
For law firms, however, we can only wish it was a matter of being rewarded with more work to help us show increasing numbers of billable hours. The fact is, in a firm where you are a young associate, paralegal, or even a Lit Support professional who has billable hour goals (for the record I do not..), and maybe aren’t bringing new work to the table yourself, you are at the mercy of others to bring you work, and getting that work completely quickly can be quite detrimental to you if there isn’t more work lined up behind it. How do you convince these folks to not only use the tools, but maybe even allow someone like me to take some of the work so that it can be accomplished more efficiently?