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Lawyers: How Much Do You Hate Keeping Track of Your Time?

I ask because Rees Morrison at the Law Department Management Blog had an idea. Granted, it's an idea that even he thinks is pretty terrible, but he put it out there, so here goes.

This article from The Economist contains a discussion of some of the technologies being used by employers to monitor freelance and offshore workers. Much of this "piecework" is facilitated by online services such as oDesk, which claims to enable its corporate customers to "[h]ire, manage, and pay a distributed workteam as if everyone were in your office." One piece of the oDesk offering is the "Work Diary," which, according to the Economist article, takes a screen shot of each user's desktop at 10-minute intervals and makes those shots available to the employer. oDesk also has a tool that measures the time an individual is using a keyboard or a mouse.

Morrison suggests that this kind of technology could be used to automatically keep an attorney's time for billing purposes:

Documents and email would be relatively easy to match to a specific client group; other screen shots would be ambiguous. With enough samples of screenshots and sophisticated recognition software, there would be no need for time-tracking by the attorneys. ... Keystroke data might loosely supplement the identification process. If certain words were associated with certain clients, the links would be clearer.

oDesk does not seem to be targeting the legal market and, of course, lawyers bill much of their time from locations other than their desks. Assuming, though, that the recognition software could be honed well enough, is this something that could catch on? As far as privacy concerns go, the Web sites attorneys are visiting are likely tracked by firms in any event (though I guess there's a subtle difference between your employer seeing the URL of your favorite porn site and actually having the "Picture of the Day" pop up on the screen of the IT guy doing the monitoring).

Morrison's take (quoted in its entirety because, frankly, I'm not sure exactly what it means): "This is an idea at once entrepreneurial, ingenious, effective, and egregious -- but my guess is that it will not happen until global warming cools."

Posted by Eric Lipman on May 18, 2010 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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