Let’s start with the stipulation that if you’re a timekeeper and you’re not charging your time then you are a burden.
When you're getting a coffee, you’re a burden. Any timekeeper you see in the corridor is a burden too. Both of you really want to get away from each other and go back to the solitary act of billing.
In an insidious way, hourly billing effectively drives lawyers out of common areas. So law firms don't build much common area.
Now, add the condition that your office is likely the only place on the floor that has natural light. Most normal humans will naturally want to spend the whole day there.
Next, add the condition that “internal conference” -- a familiar activity known in other fields as collaboration -- is anathema to clients. An invoice line item referencing multiple lawyers at once is an open invitation to challenge the bill.
To summarize, because of hourly billing:
- A lawyer in a common area is a burden
- Socializing has negative value
- Collaboration is a problem
Furthermore, an attorney’s private office is more appealing than any other working space on the floor, and attractive common space is rare.
How this affects productivity:
Four factors that contribute most to productivity are (1) natural light, (2) social interaction, (3) physical movement, and (4) personal control/choice.
Due to hourly billing, the traditional law firm scores close to zero on (2) social interaction and (3) physical movement, which cancels out high scores for natural light and control for lawyers. (Staff space & productivity factors is a subject for a separate post.)
So hourly billing results in environmental and social conditions that actually undermine productivity for lawyers.
What can be done?
It’s simple. Restore the space where lawyers can legitimately work together but not necessarily collaboratively. Not a food lounge, not a place where the whole firm comes together but a shared place just for lawyers to practice law. This used to be called the library.