We’re all driven by incentives and rewards. Law firms are no different. The more hours they sell, the more profitable they are. Keeping lawyers busy (and their ‘utilisation’ high) is a much more profitable endeavour in the short term than working out how to be transformational. It’s much easier, immediately rewarding and the natural default position.
Despite the satisfaction we get from keeping busy, the problem is that it can distract us from a more important question – what does the future look like, and what’s going to keep us busy in that future? In the case of law firms, what will clients be demanding 1, 5, 10 years from now?
There’s no easy answer. Law firms have to work out how to keep busy and profitable today at the same time as developing a culture and appetite for challenge and change that prepares them for the future.
In the world of software product management, the mantra is all about being agile, iterative, obsessed with customer/user experience and feedback, experimental, accepting failure, failing quickly and continuous improvement.
Little of that fits with a culture in which hours billed is the overriding measure of success. Not to mention a major source of client dissatisfaction. Which is why firms and clients alike have been looking for a solution to the hourly billing system for a long time.
Perhaps the answer is to look at utilisation through a software product management lens. To be agile, examine the client experience and experiment with a new approach.
What if clients could benefit from law firms’ under-utilisation? What if law firms could use their excess capacity to win new clients?
That would make under-utilisation a source of innovation rather than an impediment.