Color Blindness: Law Firm Shames Lawyers Into Higher Billable Hours

Red, Yellow, Green… the universal color code for stop and go. A system that certain European law firms are now applying to attorney work product as well.  

At least one firm in the UK is green-lighting a color-coded computer monitor, which glows red, yellow, or green depending on an attorney’s productivity level. What does that mean for you? Well, if you’re a lawyer at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, it means you better stop reading this blog post and get back to work!  

Roll on Friday (via Golden Practices Blog) reported Monday that the London-based firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain is literally monitoring its lawyers’ billable hour—a green computer screen indicates high efficacy, yellow indicates moderate work speed with room for improvement, whereas red indicates the lawyer’s pace is losing the firm’s cold, hard (colored) cash.  

Administrators at the firm justify this scheme by claiming the system is designed to “develop their commerciality, and understand the work they’re doing and the amount of time they’re spending on it.” But the firm’s self-proclaimed “snazzy glass and steel office near Tower Bridge” is open-plan, so it’s difficult to imagine firm managers aren’t deliberately using shame and peer pressure to motivate competition and increased billable hours among attorneys.  

Above the Law asked the appropriate question, “Seriously, what’s next? A computer that delivers an electric shock every time you log onto Facebook?” That’s a bit extreme. More appropriate might be writing names of misbehaved paralegals on a company-wide chalkboard or giving bad lawyers the switch. If childish antics aren’t enough to encourage you to work harder, what is?  

To innovate, a manager shouldn’t have to manipulate. First, studies show taking periodic breaks from work to play computer Tetrus or send tweets, for example, actually promotes creative thinking and makes employees more productive than those associates exclusively dedicated to the billable hour. This is because pressure to perform tends to confine people to a single mode of thinking. Taking time off work to play an online game, make a personal phone call, or browse facebook has the power to relax the mind and actually inspire a person to return to the problem at hand with fresh perspective and new solutions.

Second, scientific research supports the fact that carrots-and-stick incentives and contingent motivators for tasks actually lead to poorer performance on the part of employees. 

Therefore, law firms are better off leaving the color-coded commands to traffic lights, as employees respond better to autonomy in the workplace than ignominy.




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