The illustration for our big feature this week was very nearly a caveman bashing an iPhone with a rock. We refrained in the end, but it’s odd to think that modern-day law firms – some of the most sophisticated and complex businesses on the planet – are still using prehistoric methods to allocate work to employees.
Despite law’s state-of-the-art time recording tools, the focus on efficiency, the obsession with the ‘pipeline’ and assertions that ‘juniors are the future’, one of the most basic functions of any business – making sure that everyone has the right amount of work – comes down to what? Partners mooching round the corridors peering at associates who look familiar and vaguely alert. Or some variation on the ‘traffic light’ system, with all its unintended implications (green = “I’m a slacker”; red = “I can’t cope”; amber = “I don’t want to look like I’m a slacker or can’t cope”). If this is a flippant summary of the state of work allocation at the majority of firms, it’s not hugely over-simplistic.
No doubt some lawyers will have a natural scepticism of the new methods of work allocation currently starting to gain traction at a few of the top firms. For our part we’re all in favour. Perhaps The Lawyer coining the term ‘blind allocation’ wasn’t helpful, as it suggests a level of randomness to the process that doesn’t truly exist.
But resisting change on the basis of ‘this is how it has always been done’ is the kind of thinking that has never benefited law firms. Why come up with innovative legal solutions but stick to outmoded working practices?
In fact, blind allocation is quite old-fashioned in its own way. It is at least a return to a more human way of doing things. At its heart, it is little more than employing specific people to take a real interest in what lawyers are doing, have true oversight of everyone’s needs and workloads, and to team up associates with partners accordingly. Perhaps instead of blind allocation we should have called it lawyer matchmaking.