Twittering the Billable Hour

Why am I on Twitter? The family have stopped asking, and just accept that although I long ago got rid of my BlackBerry and obsession with emails, this has been replaced by an equally worrying (to them) interest in Web 2.0: Twitter, FourSquare, Spotify, Feedly ~ to say nothing of FB and LinkedIn.

It is always easy to justify one’s peculiarities (not least as to you they are not peculiar at all) but lately I have been giving some thought as to whether Twitter is really of any value, other than to boast about my homegrown asparagus. I am quite sure that it is. For me its value lies in the links I find. These may be to legal or management articles or blog posts, be about current affairs, or, very close to my heart, bird sightings. And all delivered (usually with a little help from bit.ly) in 140 characters.

The result is that I have access to an enormous range of thought.

A very good example was a tweet by Patrick Lamb (@ValoremLamb) yesterday, which took me to the Law Society of Western Australia’s website – and ultimately allowed me to download The Chief Justice of Western Australia’s address to the Perth Press Club, “Billable Hours – past their use by date”, given on 17 May to launch Law Week 2010. It is an excellent analysis, given, as the Chief Justice admits, “with a view to stimulating interest and debate, which may in turn accelerate changes which are already evident in some parts of the profession”.

You need to read the speech for yourselves (it’s a pdf on the website). It is pretty even-handed (what would you expect from a lawyer?) and he sets out both the advantages and the disadvantages, which will be familiar to most lawyers here and there. But one particular paragraph caught my eye:

Focuses on hours, not value

Time costing focuses the efforts of the legal practitioner upon the production of billable hours, rather than the production of value for the client. It rewards efforts and not results, promotes quantity over quality, repetition over creativity.

There is quite a lot more like that, but even though the Chief Justice accepts that “time billing has a place in legal service charging” he is quite clear that there are other methods “which encourage efficiency and better allocate risk”.

The BlackBerry bites back

An interesting string of comments to the article in Legal Week about Links asking its partners and associates to take a BlackBerry break, which I commented on in BlackBerry as fig leaf earlier in the week.

A selection will give you a flavour:

I have to say that in this day and age, Blackberries are a must have for the providers of legal services. Stay ahead of the game! As I said yesterday, I will be taking my Blackberry everywhere with me whilst on holiday in sunny southern Europe. If you need me, you will find me sitting under water in the deep end of the swimming pool happily answering clients’ emailed enquires. Mark my words. A Clerk

I hadn’t heard about it either but spoke to one of the partners and they said it came in about a month ago. Not that it’s going to make any difference as you still have to have your mobile phone on! Anonymous

Since when? I work at Linklaters and have never heard of this new policy! Anonymous

I think it’s more to do with the costs associated with everyone checking their personal e-mails, Facebook account and surfing the web whilst abroad – I’m sure that’s not cheap to fund in these ‘credit-crunching’ times! Anonymous

Or possibly just posting comments on the Legal Week site!

BlackBerry as fig leaf?

A quote from a Links partner, reported in Linklaters says: take a BlackBerry break in Thelawyer.com,

I have to admit, though, I do feel a little naked without my BlackBerry. It’s like when you leave the house without your watch on.

Not sure how worried I should be. I don’t have a BlackBerry (as those of you who read this blog will know), but I am now going to have to own up to the fact that I don’t wear a watch either. I only feel naked when I leave the house without my trousers on.

The mobile lawyer

Shortly after reading The Road Ahead in the latest Law Gazette (I will come back to that in a later post), I read Jordan Furlong’s post Lawyers in the smartphone era in Law 21.

I cannot help but feel somewhat depressed by Furlong’s vision of the future for lawyers, the consequence he anticipates of two smartphone-related developments.

The first is that thanks to smartphones, every lawyer is going to be mobile.It’s true that the Blackberry has already made itself a significant presence in the lives of many business lawyers, for better and for worse. But as a general rule, the lawyer’s center of gravity remains where it’s always been: her office, where she keeps her desk, chair, landline phone, files, books, and desktop computer. That center of gravity is now shifting to the lawyer herself. With the smartphones of the near future at her command, that lawyer will be able to do everything on the road — call, e-mail, Web browse, review files, read cases, write memos, etc. — that she now does in the office. In fact, it’ll be expected of her. A lawyer with a smartphone is a walking law firm — one that hardly ever closes. Lawyers who obsessively check their smartphone messages are considered antisocial nuisances today, but before long, they’ll be the norm. I’m not saying that’s good, but I am saying it’s pretty much inevitable.

In many ways, I think we are already there. It may not be smartphones yet in the UK, but the BlackBerry is ubiquitous, and for many lawyers it is not where their desk is that is important, but where their client’s desk is. For lawyers, as for many other professionals, mobility is essential (although I remain to be convinced by the BlackBerry).

And Furlong’s second impact category?

Among the tens of thousands of future applications [being developed by iPhone, BlackBerry, and others] will be many that deliver legal services directly to clients. For lawyers, this development could represent either a threat (yet another way in which computers are reducing traditional lawyer work to a series of algorithms) or an opportunity (someone with legal knowhow and experience has to design those algorithms; why not a law firm?). But either way, over the next decade, smartphones will become a legal service delivery medium. Now’s the time for lawyers to start dealing with that.

Some people will say that there’s no way a simple cellphone will ever be able to do lawyer work. Some people used to say that about computers, too. So I’ll take this opportunity to update one of my axioms: the problem won’t be  smartphones doing what lawyers can do; it’ll be lawyers continuing to do what smartphones can do.

Priority fruit

If you have read my blog before, you will not be surprised that I don’t agree with Penelope Trunk’s views on BlackBerries, found through another excellent post on Law 21, Core competence: 6 new skills now required of lawyers, but her post Stop blaming your Blackberry for your lack of self-discipline is still worth reading, if only because it promotes the myth of the multi-talented, multi-tasking Generation Y-er

If you want to see a whole generation make great choices about their priorities using the Blackberry, then latch onto Generation Y. They have been managing multiple steams of conversation simultaneously for more than a decade, so they are aces at it. And they are fiends for productivity tips. The most popular blogs are productivity blogs, and David Allen is a rock star in this demographic. So young people are constantly using prioritizing tools to make their information and ideas flow more smoothly for both work and life, back and forth, totally braided.

Blackberries are tools for the well-prioritized. If you feel like you’re being ruled by your Blackberry, you probably are. And the only way to free yourself from those shackles is to start prioritizing so that you know at any given moment what is the most important thing to do. Sometimes it will be the Blackberry, and sometimes it won’t. And the first step to doing this shift properly is recognizing that you can be on and off the Blackberry all day as a sign of empowerment.

Penelope is obviously one of those people who takes her BlackBerry to bed (you will have to read the full post to know why) but she is right about prioritising, and time management is one of those 6 new skills now required of lawyers (although I am not so certain that this is really a new skill: it is perhaps more that the pressure of modern practice means it is even more important).

As for the other 5 new skills required, I will come back to these soon.