Recently, the folks over at Above the Law reported on a staff nastygram that was fired off by a BigLaw partner. Unfortunately, the caricature-like nature of the memo’s condescending tone (that simultaneously made it both humorous and blogworthy) overshadowed what is really an otherwise fair and important message.
Marked for distribution to folks who probably include some of the sharpest, most talented attorneys in the country (each of whom probably works ridiculously long hours), it takes a nasty temper tantrum, adds an entirely valid business concern and mixes it all up together better than your grandma’s Cuisinart(R). It could’ve been closed “GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.”
Having the luxury of distance – that is, not being one of the memo’s specific targets – we can offer up a few thoughts about the substance of the message, rather than its classic form.
Obviously, when a large percentage of a Firm’s revenue is tied to billable hours, everyone’s got to stay current on time tracking. There’s no way around it, and it’s really in everyone’s interest to make sure time is tracked regularly and accurately. And everyone already knows this. So, what’s the problem?
I don’t know what particular app the Firm in the memo uses for time tracking, but if the points below (which are very similar to what we’ve heard from several other firms) are representative of the problem – then maybe there’s a different way to look at the problem rather than (just?!) berating the team.
“[time sheets are] required to be completed on the same day as the work you do”
“your daily time sheet should be given to your secretary BEFORE you leave for the day”
“your secretary should input and release your time sheet”
With today’s technology, a good portion of time-keeping can be handled exclusively by the attorney herself without the need for secretary or paralegal “input.” Simple solutions are available that relegate time keeping to a passive outcome (e.g. Bill As You Work) as opposed to an active, additional job.
The more people it takes to accomplish a task, the more forms that are required to be filled out, the more it becomes an independent job in and of itself – and the more likely it is to get bottlenecked behind other (often client or court-driven) priorities. With a little help from technology, the memo’s generous (?!) “next-day-is-OK” exception, reserved “for those of us who also work after leaving the office” (smoooooooooooth!) might not even be required.
So – if time tracking issues are holding you back, it might make sense to consider your process, and whether there is any room for improvement or streamlining prior to going right for the staff berating memo – entertainment value notwithstanding.