Why you shouldn’t believe your lawyer when they claim all time is of equal value

It was depressing to read in a recent Spectator article by veteran advertising industry figure Rory Sutherland (“The Wiki Man,” Spectator 25 September 2021) that time recording has reached his industry.

He comments critically on this development, gently questioning the adage ‘what gets measured gets managed’ by suggesting that what gets measured is often meaningless and creates its own sterile bureaucracy.

I think it may be even worse than that.


The curse of the six-minute unit

Accountants, lawyers, stockbrokers (and now, it seems, advertising agents) are in the business of billing by the hour – or six-minute unit – introducing to the charging process the (to me, specious) idea that all time is of equal value.

These professionals don’t expect their clients to worry that they are the victims of a scheme to exaggerate the time it takes to do their work, even though they know that individual lawyers have fee targets that encourage them to pad their bills.

We are all aware that sharp billing practices apply to other fields too.

For example, dealerships in the auto industry have tables showing how long the manufacturer expects it will take an average technician to carry out various types of servicing work.

Intended to be a guide to how to run an efficient servicing operation, these tables have turned into a ‘billing bible’ with time targets that technicians are expected to beat. The difference between the guidelines and what happens in the real world is a handsome increase in profit margins when the manufacturer’s guidelines – which cannot be disputed – are what ends up on the bill.

All of this is close to being a financial fraud on the public. Yet it’s even worse than that.


What fee targets really mean

Fee targets and hourly rates do not just cost more. They result in more regulation as courts and regulators seek to control professionals’ ability to empty their clients’ wallets.

They do this by insisting that individual lawyers, accountants etc. follow ever tighter scripts so that the public appears to, at least, be getting set amounts of work for its money.

But this kind of regulation has a powerful dulling effect on the application of initiative.

It also turns highly trained lawyers into box-tickers, who lead their clients apathetically through prescribed processes that may or may not suit their needs but are compliant from a regulatory perspective.

No wonder artificial intelligence (AI) is predicted to take over so many white-collar functions.

But we have also seen how poorly adapted current AI can be to real life.


AI vs human intelligence

A self-driving car might, for example, screech to a halt to avoid hitting a bird walking across a road, careering into a ditch instead of having a few feathers in its radiator. While avoiding a tragedy for the bird, this is not a choice a human driver would make, even if their reflexes were fast enough to give them the choice.

Yet poorly thought-through hourly billing, followed by reactive regulation to protect clients, which in turn leads to AI removing the human element entirely, will probably leave us all in a ditch with feathers in our teeth.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Avoid the courts.

Take the Moot Route.

Moot Hill dispute resolution Leicestershire