In the billable hour world, lawyers have little incentive to be efficient. This could change. Consider Howrey’s change in associate compensation.  

One the one hand, I’ve never believed that many lawyers are intentionally inefficient to rack up hours. On the other hand, billable hour targets or quotas do not create incentives to look for ways to practice more efficiently.

So I was fascinated to read Howrey to Ditch Lockstep Compensation for Merit-Based Model (The Recorder, 6/29/07), which reports that the firm “will introduce a merit-based system of advancement and compensation for associates… writing, deposition, trial practice and client presentation skills will be considered.”

Firms so often focus on their inner workings and don’t consider fully client perceptions. The firm could send a powerful message to clients if it also assesses associate efficiency, particularly use of technology to practice more effectively. For a litigation-focused firm like Howrey, this might include use of such tools as Lexis or West research, work product databases, knowledge management systems, CaseMap, decision trees for risk analysis, spreadsheets for estimating damages, and appropriate selection and use of document review tools for discovery.

If I were a client facing a lawsuit, I would want a great litigator. But also an efficient one.