What If Apple Operated Like A Law Firm?

We’ve already discussed what it would be like if Apple owned your law firm. (Though people remain unconvinced that allowing non-attorneys to own stakes in law firms is a good idea).

But, what about the reverse—what if Apple was run like a law firm?

This question was answered by J. Benjamin Stevens in his article, “The Legal Mac: What if Apple Stores Billed by the Hour?” Stevens described his recent experience at a Mac Store where he bought a screen protector for his iPhone. In under 10 minutes, he had received advice and service from three Apple employees.

The first asked him if he needed help, and pointed him in the direction of the needed product. The second suggested he seek help before installing his screen protector and led him to the third employee. The third employee installed the screen protector flawlessly, and sent Stevens back on his way.

Stevens postulates what their timesheets would look like in this scenario:

  • Anil would write, “Conference with client in regards to optimal protection for said client’s iPhone 3G screen, to wit: a screen protector. Referral to Angelina for point-of-sale transaction … 0.1 hours.”
  • Angelina: “Conference with client in regards to point-of-sale transaction for one (1) screen protector for said client’s iPhone 3G (three G). Discussion in regards to additional products needed for purchase. Referral to Pam for screen-protector installation … 0.1 hours.”
  • And Pam: “Conference with client in regards to installation of iPhone screen protector. Cleaning and maintenance of said client’s said iPhone screen. Further conference with client in regards to having a nice evening … 0.1 hours.”

However, despite what Stevens considers to be three separate, helpful customer service moments, Apple earned only $14.95 in sales revenue from this interaction. And, even though Stevens spent only 6 minutes total in the store, each Apple employee would record on their timesheets 0.1 hours—three times the actual amount spent accommodating the client.

Of course, law firms have varying systems in place for double (and triple) billing by multiple lawyers, Stevens points out. The majority of firms would cut these duplicative hours before invoicing the client.

But associates are still encouraged to boost their billable hours and decrease nonbillable time.

“So if the Apple Store were run like a law firm, Anil and Pam would have been discouraged from such “nonbillable” work as helping me choose or affix an inexpensive screen protector, in favor of “billable” work like selling a new Mac Pro. If the Apple Store employees focused on selling billable hours, they wouldn’t be wasting time helping customers with little things like this,” Steven laments.

“But then again, if that had been the case, maybe I wouldn’t have returned to an Apple Store a few weeks later to buy the $2,500 MacBook Air that I wrote this article on.”

Stevens did, in fact, purchase a new Macbook computer a few weeks later. It turns out that superior customer service—essentially nonbillable time—compelled a client to seek future business, and become a loyal customer.

Stevens concludes, “In law firms where lawyers are measured by the hours they bill, they are effectively punished for nonbillable time spent helping clients. Which is why people love going to the Apple Store, and hate dealing with lawyers.”

Next time, as an administrator, you’re questioning the timesheets of associates, ask yourself what kind of experience you’re selling to the client—the Apple one, or the traditional law firm one. If you’d prefer your firm run like Apple, educated your associates on good customer service, and encourage a small amount of unbillable time to serve a greater purpose and profit.

-WB

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