Is it better to focus on ‘Service Outcomes’ or ‘Labour Inputs’?

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A lot has already been written about DLA Piper’s rumoured requirement that its equity partners document 7.5 hours of work a day. Referred to as the ‘Red Card‘ system, this latest initiative by DLA is reportedly being put in place by its COO Andrew Darwin in order to reduce/eliminate ‘delinquent behaviour‘ by withholding quarterly profit drawings and, if persistent, reduced monthly drawings of those partners who do not meet the 7.5 hours a day target.

Now, as has been noted elsewhere, this 7.5 hours a day doesn’t have to be billable work – it merely needs to be ‘documented’. As such, marketing, administration, mentoring, and knowledge management tasks can all count towards this daily target.

But I have two questions for those like legal recruiter Dan Binstock, co-chair of Garrison & Sisson’s Partner and Practice Group Division, who suggest that:

“[A] policy like this is usually brought on due to unproductive behavior that needs to be addressed. While this is unusual, if there are segments of partners who are not carrying their own weight and coasting, this policy is definitively a firm kick in the rear.”
Which are:
  1. Do labour inputs reflect service outcomes?
  2. Do labour inputs reflect productive time?

Now I will accept that if you are answering the above two questions in a modern law firm -ie, exceeding budget – then it is highly likely you are far exceeding the 7.5 hours a day requirement.

So here’s the thing: I’m sure Andrew Darwin’s latest initiative has an agenda. Like others have written, I’m sure it has more to do with forcing unproductive partners of the firm out than it has to do with rewarding partners who exceed the requirement. It’s only a shame that in a global partnership, behaviours among equity partners is such that if an equity partner (yes, “equity”) is unproductive, has been given every opportunity to rectify this and turn things around, and has not done so, they can no longer be tapped on the shoulder and asked to move on.


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