Keeping Time (With The Times): Apple iWatch, Innovation & Time Management For Law Firms

Everybody’s talking about time management these days.

Well, in the case of Apple, media articles and tech-savvy blogs are just talking about time.

The iWatch is a much whispered about innovation by Apple, to be released as to be determined. But, it doesn’t keep the NY Times and Wired magazine from speculating that Apple will use curved glass as a key design feature.

Or, for the Harvard Business Review Blog to guess “A Timex is mainly chronological. What Apple could be doing is making a ‘kairologocial’ tool that tracks and monitors the data around the experiences you care about. How much you actually slept, when and how far you walked…”

Luckily, law firm managers can keep both their guesses and their watches at home. According to experts, the secret to project management isn’t time management at all. In fact, most managers speed past deadlines.

Forget the schedule. Key filing or court deadlines aside, it’s more impotant to be goal- and product-oriented than time-oriented.

“Why don’t more project managers sound an alarm when they’re going to blow past their deadlines?” ask Joe Knight, Roger Thomas, and Brad Angus for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Because most of them have no earthly idea when they’ll finish the job. They don’t even think it’s possible to know. Too many variables. Too much that’s out of their control.”

It’s true, law firm managers should focus more on what keeps the client informed and happy rather than exactly how long it took you to get there. Unfortunately, the billable hour and client satisfaction are inextricably linked in legal services industry.

For some companies, the Harvard Business Review advice may be sound. “If your customer doesn’t think you’re late, then you’re not late,” it states.

But, if the equity partner thinks you’re late, then you’re late. And, if the judge thinks you’re late, then you’re really, really late.

So, is time management a strategic variable that law firm managers can manipulate at all?

It turns out, a not-so-recent study from 1997 shows that innovative employment practices—incentive pay, flexible job assignments, and higher job security—increase employee productivity. Although employees may be in a time crunch to write that legal brief, those who work for firms providing non-traditional working hours or environments to do so are more efficient and effective at their job.

The study published in the American Economic Review by Ichniowski et al. investigated the productivity effects of innovative employment practices using data from a sample of 36 homogeneous steel production lines owned by 17 companies.

“The productivity regressions demonstrate that lines using a set of innovative work practices, which include incentive pay, teams, flexible job assignments, employment security, and training, achieve substantially higher levels of productivity than do lines with the more traditional approach, which includes narrow job definitions, strict work rules, and hourly pay with close supervision,” write the authors.

In addition, these innovative employment practices tend to be complements. Essentially, optimal incentive structures—like higher employment security but lower salaries, or higher training couple with incentive pay—come in pairs.

“That is, workers’ performance is substantially better under incentive pay plans that are coupled with supporting innovative work practices—such as flexible job design, employee participation in problem-solving, teams, training to provide workers with multiple skills, extensive screening and communication and employment security—than it is under more traditional work practices.”

So, if your law firm can’t pull back on its billable hours or push forward its many deadlines, at least it can manage the time of and human resource policy for its employees.

Consider implementing flexible scheduling, work-from-home policies, or other innovative management practices. Give your employees the opportunity to diversify their workload or work on a variety of departmental teams.

The more choices you offer your employees, the more hours they will bill—and happily—for your firm.

Not sure where to start? Check out ideas for innovative managment practices for law firms here.

-WB

 

Reference: Ichniowski, C., Shaw, K., & Prennushi, G. 1997. The effects of human resource management practices on productivity: A study of steel finishing lines. American Economic Review, 87: 291-313.

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