Yesterday a prestigious global law firm showcased the baffling combination of brilliant legal expertise and management dysfunction that drives business clients to distraction:
A “2018 Innovation Hours program, which recognizes up to 50 innovation hours toward billable-hour targets for fee earners”.
This announcement expressly recognized that the attorneys involved in this program — “fee earners” it called them — work for clients under “billable-hour targets” imposed on them by the law firm.
And announced — without irony — its use of “billable-hours targets” in aid of “innovation”.
That it’s common for law firms to impose hourly quotas on lawyers who do the firm’s work — on pain of career jeopardy if they don’t meet that expectation — isn’t news.
Such quotas are Exhibit A for the proposition that when the legal industry values a lawyer’s work by how long that lawyer takes to do his or her job — the legal industry has pitted the attorney’s interests against those of the client.
Did the attorneys working to an hourly quota really think that their client company’s needs required X hours to perform that task — rather than (say) half that time?
Or were individual lawyers motivated by their respective quotas?
Quotas imposed on them by their law firm?