Sending the Wrong Signals to Clients with Technology

Sending the Wrong Signals to Clients with Technology

In Big Employer Is Watching yesterday (11/5/03, p. B1), the Wall Street Journal reports that many employers are using technology to monitor employee attendance. Employees at some organizations must use a web-based system to indicate their presence at their desk. Increasingly, employers use such systems to monitor salaried employees, not just those paid hourly. The article reports many employers have seen productivity increases, though it also talks about the issues such systems raise.

Featured in the article is New York law firm Akin & Smith LLC, where “paralegals, receptionists and clerks clock in by placing a finger on a sensor kept at a secretary's desk.” Quoting the managing partner, the article reports “It keeps everyone honest.”

I could editorialize on many aspects of the use of this system. I'll limit my comments to the observation of how I, as a client of this firm, might react to the use of this technology by time-keeping paralegals. From a client's perspective, this firm's use of the technology sends a bad signal. It says, in effect, we are really worried about the accuracy or honesty of our staff. In fact, we want to make sure we are getting our money's worth out of these people, so we are monitoring them. As a client, I'd have to think, what does that mean about how paralegals are billing me for their time? If the firm is so worried about what the paralegals are doing, shouldn't I worry about how they bill me for their time? I would want to ask the client why they don't use an equivalent system to make sure the paralegals are billing me accurately.

More generally, how a firm uses technology can send clients positive or negative signals about a firm. Clients who see their lawyers with wireless e-mail devices (such as a Blackberry) are getting a message that their lawyers are accessible. Walking into a lawyers office and not seeing a PC or seeing a stack of printed e-mails sends a signal that the lawyer is way behind the time (though, based on the market imperfections discussed in my prior post, that may not matter all that much).

The message for law firms is that one consideration in deploying any new technology is the signal it sends to clients – good or bad.  [Strategic Legal Technology]

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