Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Professional Services - Values, Culture and Depression 1: IT vs law

In my last post, Managing Depression - a problem for individuals and firms, I talked about the problems created by the growing incidence of depression. A community wide problem, Australian survey data suggests that the incidence within the professions is most acute among lawyers and patent attorneys.

Why lawyers and patent attorneys? Part of the reason is, I think, that these professions combine individual work with a high pressure billable hours culture.

To provide a comparative base, consider the case of the IT professional.

A significant proportion of IT professionals work in teams in a project environment. Pressures can be high, but they are dictated by shared project milestones. This makes for cooperative working.

Firm economics come back to yield on time, but the relationship between each individual's performance and firm profitability is less direct than in the billable hours environment. Once a price has been set, the challenge is to manage resources to bring the job in on or below budget. Performance measurement techniques focus on the project.

Compare this to law. Work is individual. Firm profitability depends upon the yield on individual time. Each month the firm's performance measurement system spits out reports that focus on individual performance. So performance pressures are individual and direct.

In IT projects there is a manager, the project manager, whose task is to manage the project. This includes managing the people in the project at least so far as that project is concerned.

There is no real equivalent in most law firms. In many, people management is in fact seen as a diversion, something that diverts scarce billable hours into firm time. People are meant to manage themselves to achieve their individual billings targets.

All this creates a culture in which depression can flower.

Posts in this Series

Precursor posts:

The Depression series:


Legal Eagle said...

I like it. A perceptive post.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, LE. I have a part completed post that I hope to put up tonight that looks at some of the JL examples from a management perspective.

I do not know that my campaigning for better people management will ever have an impact. But as someone who has been involved in management for more years than I sometimes care to remember, I continue to try.

One of the messages that I try to get across is that improved management is neither mystical nor rocket science, simply the combination of fairness with applied common sense.

A second message is that everyone can improve their own management.