Photo by Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
Photo by Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Wachtell Lipton To Start Tracking Employee Work Status

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz will start a pilot program next week, requiring its assistants to report the status and location of the firm’s attorneys each morning, according to an internal memo leaked to the legal blog Above the Law.

Still unknown: how Wachtell plans to use the information it gathers?

From the memo: “The lack of awareness of the status and/or location of our colleagues results in staffing and work-related complications and other concerns.”

Martin Lipton, founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, speaks at the Bloomberg Dealmakers Summit in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Martin Lipton, founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, speaks at the Bloomberg Dealmakers Summit in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

It also explained the process. The assistants would have an icon on their computers that would include a variety of options, such as “working from home,” “traveling on business,” and “leave of absence,” and they will be required to input the status and location of their assigned attorneys.

The firm’s Co-Chairman Dan Neff did not respond to a request for comment. Big Law Business surveyed a handful of industry observers who specialize in workplace trends and the business of law. Below are some of their comments on the development.

Bruce MacEwen, Law Firm Consultant, Adam Smith Esq.:

The way the world is going, if you can collect information, you’re going to. It’s just kind of the irresistible logic of technology, and I don’t know whether or not I’m surprised that Wachtell seems to be the first law firm to do this, but I think it’s going to happen. I hate to say, ‘Resistance is futile,’ but that’s kind of my attitude.

I would assume that if you’re a hyper-pressured place like Wachtell, where client responsiveness is really critical, it’s important actually, in terms of client service, to be able to reach people. I think there is a pretty obvious business justification for it. Whether people get paranoid about how it’s used, they are entitled to get paranoid but, I would assume it’s best of intentions.

Marcia McCormick, Professor of Law, St. Louis University School of Law:

This change seems to have happened without any explanation to what the purpose was, and it’s easy for employees to think that it’s because of a lack of trust. And that change in what people perceive the culture to be can have really negative effects on people’s well-being. It might make people less productive or fearful.

There is this big push by employers and themselves about gathering as much data as possible to try to hack productivity secrets that may not be obvious. Maybe one of the things that the firm is trying to do is figure out whether the employees are more productive when they are at home, or when they are at work and try to interact with each other.

Google tracked [employees] by ID badges to see what they were doing during the course of the day. The people who talked to the most people were actually more productive. The lunchroom was configured so that they would be exposed to more people than they ordinarily would. That’s what most people might look at as a possible use of data. It doesn’t seem to be a desire to limit employees’ freedom.

Photo by Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Photo by Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

This could simply be a way to ensure that the assistants know how to get in touch with their lawyers.

When we experienced the PC revolution and a lot of people’s work was done on computers, one of the early things that happened was at a lot of workplaces employers invested in software that required keystrokes. Everything they did on the computer was recorded. That led to a lot of concern. Today, it’ s become so normal to be watched everywhere.

Robbie Friedman, CEO, Viewabill: 

There is a push for law firms to get more data about their own activity and that’s a good thing. I know everybody thinks there is something sinister behind it but I don’t think there is something sinister behind it. It seems what they are trying to do is understand where the work is taking place. With that type of information they can see correlation between profitability and where the work is taking place.

I’ve never seen anything like this from other firms although firms do have ways to tell where people are even without them reporting.

What we see and what we encourage is for firms to keep a closer eye on the actual billable activity so that they could have insight into where their inventory is. Just like any business you want to know what your business looks like at any given time.

This is totally innovative.

Kristin Stark, Principal, Fairfax Associates:

I would be surprised if any firms followed suit on this one. There are too many lawyers at every level that would resist this, particularly once you start talking about the more democratic firms (which is true of a large portion of the AmLaw).

Some firms are implementing other technology advancements which are tied to email systems and timekeeping systems, but those are not intended to capture the physical location of a lawyer. They are intended to electronically record (without a manual entry) how lawyers are spending their time to improve accuracy and avoid leakage from a billing perspective.

Aric Press, Law Firm Consultant, Bernero & Press:

The memo is silent on whether they can go to the dentist or work from home. Maybe this new program will discourage that, maybe it won’t. Maybe the partners will say, in a little while, this is a business, we need to know what are people are doing and from where, but we expect you to be adults and we will otherwise treat you as such. End of story.

The odd thing is to for the firm to institute this now when everyone is connected to the office, one way or another, 24/7. Given how hard the Wachtell associates already work, at least by reputation, it’s hard to imagine how much more any system could squeeze from them. So I wonder if that’s really the motive. But it’s late August, it’s Wachtell which is always mysterious and therefore attention getting, and folks have to feed their daily blog hole.

William Henderson, Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law:

No significance. They are piloting. So what. … The memo to ATL? That is bad form.

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