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stopped asking, and just accept that although I long ago got rid of my BlackBerry and obsession with emails, this has been replaced by an equally worrying (to them) interest in Web 2.0: Twitter, FourSquare, Spotify, Feedly ~ to say nothing of FB and LinkedIn.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

Playing the football card

What is it about Labour politicians and football? Is it the need to demonstrate their ‘man of the people’ credentials, and that they are in touch with, and true to, their roots (whatever these may), or is it that they are just like any other politician, and think they know best about everything?

Whether it was Harold Wilson and the 1996 World Cup, or Tony Blair telling us that he used to watch Newcastle United as a boy (even if his hero Jackie Milburn had hung up his boots quite a few years before), over the years no Labour politician has been able to resist playing the football card.

The latest to do so is Mike O’Brien, the health minister.

O’Brien chose Twitter as the medium, and what he offered in his 140 characters was “The sacking of Terry is crass. Capello has bowed to tabloid pressure. Infidelity is bad but I saw no signs of fatigue in his football”. Having looked at his tweets, the one about Terry is possibly the most interesting unless you are one of O’Brien’s constituents (although glass houses and stones comes to mind, as I don’t think many of mine would pass Tammy Erickson’s test “Are you fun to follow on Twitter?”: see her HBR article). But why tweet about it all?

And why the strange linkage between infidelity and fatigue? Is there something he knows as health minister he isn’t telling us!

Corporate control

One of my dislikes is our telling clients that we are always available 24/7.

Leaving aside that I am not (and so the claim is not strictly truthful), do my clients really want me to be available 24/7? When the job requires it, yes: but not all the time.

And how are we? The BlackBerry. I don’t have one (I gave it back) and I live in an area where there is no mobile coverage. But most of my colleagues do, and having one is very much seen as having ‘arrived’ (quite where is not clear) and even more when they are allowed to upgrade to the new model.  They clearly haven’t read The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr,

The Blackberry has become the most visible symbol of the expansion of corporate control over people’s lives. Connected wirelessly to corporate servers, the ubiquitous gadget forms an invisible tether tying employees to their jobs. . . Many people feel a genuine sense of empowerment when they use their BlackBerry or otherwise connect from afar to their corporate network. They welcome the technology because it “frees” them to work whenever and wherever they want, making them more productive and successful in their jobs. The price they pay, of course, is a loss of autonomy, as their employers gain greater control over their time, their activities and even their thoughts. “Even though I’m home,” another BlackBerry user told the Journal, “I’m not necessarily there.”

For more from Nicholas Carr, see his blog Rough Type. It doesn’t always make comfortable reading (his latest post is on Twitter ~ a corrective to the recent law blog posts such as Law tweeting proposition 2 in Binary Law).

. . . and yes, I occasionally tweet (but not that often).