Leading international law firm, Clifford Chance has launched a year-long trial across the firm’s offices in the Middle East to understand the impact of removing utilisation – total billable hours as a percentage of total hours available to be worked – from its assessment of lawyer contribution and performance.
The pilot programme, which will include all lawyers (except partners) in the firm’s Dubai and Abu Dhabi offices is designed to provide robust data and insights that will help Clifford Chance better understand how shifting the actual and perceived emphasis away from utilisation might deliver better outcomes for its clients, lawyers, and for the firm itself.
While client work and outstanding client service will remain the core focus for the team, a key hypothesis under evaluation is that more explicitly valuing a wider range of activities will create greater incentives for our teams to focus their time and capabilities on, for example, engaging with the firm’s innovation strategy and deployment of the firm’s Best Delivery tools and investing in the firm’s clients and client relationships. The trial will also strongly encourage professional development and broadening of skills and capabilities and contributions to the firm’s knowledge and thought leadership. The trial will also closely monitor the potential impact on time spent progressing the firm’s diversity and inclusion, wellbeing and community programmes. To support the change, compensation and bonuses will be based on a balanced understanding of each individual’s contribution, in line with the priorities set by the regional leadership team and each lawyer’s objectives, with utilisation thresholds formally removed.
Matthew Layton, Clifford Chance Global Managing Partner comments, “To achieve our vision of becoming the global law firm of choice, we need to be prepared to do things differently and to challenge the status quo. While we have always encouraged our lawyers to spend time on a broad range of value-adding activities, from business development to Best Delivery, the perceived emphasis has remained on utilisation. With this pilot, we are trying to break the dominance of that single metric and allow our teams to think more broadly about where their time is best spent. This may mean investing in time spent developing and applying process improvements to matters, rather than straightforward matter delivery.”
Mo Al-Shukairy, Regional Managing Partner for Clifford Chance in the Middle East adds, “The world we are working in is changing fast. Our people and our clients have different expectations than they had of us in the past. This pilot is an acknowledgement of that change, and an explicit attempt to try to find a new model that is fit for the future. Our expectation is that this new way of working will bring material benefits to our clients and that our people will also find that it provides new opportunities to explore their own professional development, while advancing the firm’s strategy.”
Caroline Firstbrook, Clifford Chance Chief Operating Officer, explains, “While utilisation is widely used as a core metric across the industry, it has a number of broadly acknowledged limitations, most notably that it does not directly incentivise efficiency or contributions to non-billable work that may be invaluable to the firm’s overall strategy and to the continued development of exceptional client service. By running a pilot on this scale, with a large number of data points, associate input and partner and management feedback, we expect to be in a position to draw informed conclusions on the way ahead for the firm. The Middle East partners and leadership team are taking a bold and exciting step here that will provide insights into these questions that have simply not been available to us before now.”
To ensure that evaluation of the pilot is based on robust, comparable data, Middle East lawyers will continue to record their time. All lawyers will have desktop dashboards which will show where their time has been spent across a number of categories, and which will include financial information about matters where they are involved. This data will be updated daily.