During the landmark Rhode Island (RI) lead paint trial, no one, including me, pointed to the elephant in Court Room 11. And that was the obvious face time being put in by everyone and anyone - lawyers, Wall Street types, the media. It was catchy and I eventually felt a compulsion to be there in the flesh in Court Room 11 even for those tedious discussions of motions when the jury wasn't there.
Well, Peter Lattman who heads the law blog of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL brought this face-time issue to the surface yesterday. He did it in the context of the legal profession where it is standard and questioned if "being there" was just part of the macho ethos of the elite law trade or productive. The comments coming in, including from me, questioned the need for so much time spent in the office.
In Court Room 11 every day during RI lead paint II, each law firm had not only its lead attorneys on the premises but also associates and paralegals. Okay, we know that these second-tier players would return to their offices set up in downtown Providence and toil the night away researching and writing whatever in response to what had taken place in the proceedings.
But might it have been more cost-effective to the clients being billed and for the toilers' body and soul, if the second-tier were not always in court. Instead, they could have been informed later through transcripts and reports from the lead attorneys what the issue was. Instead of putting in 18 hours, they might have put in eight. Clearly, American capitalism, which is neck-deep in litigation, could use that savings. The legal profession, just like every other industry in America, has to become more time-efficient.
In the comment I left on Lattman's blog I noted that face time is in most professions. In fact, I got the message early in my corporate career in executive communications to treat it as a sacred ritual. You didn't leave until the boss left and better double-check that he really had cleared the complex by sending a scout to check for his car (the boss was a he in those days).
That all stopped when I got snagged. After 8:00 PM one evening, I went into my boss Ted Miller's office at Chrysler. Miller was a rich kid so he could afford to be irreverent.
"Yeah, I've seen that you're still here and now you can sneak out," he said. From then on I invested in performance versus just putting in hours. That has paid off in the new economy. My face-time colleagues are sitting in Starbucks pretending to still be busy and important, yeah still putting in face time, but this time without a pay check or a boss to impress. They have forgotten how to perform for real. They have defaulted to making it known to the latte-maker that they sure put in long hours.