Should Law Firms Institute “20% Time”?

Most law firms hope to exist for many decades to come. But most law firms’ focus their energy on meeting quarterly or yearly targets.

But research shows that companies pay a steep price for not extending their gaze beyond the next 3-12 months. These companies tend to have significantly lower growth over the long-term.

One way that firms can increase their long-term longevity is through instituting “20% time”. In the book Drive, Daniel H Pink writes that “20% time” refers to the percentage of working time that employees are encouraged to work on any project that they wanted.

Google is the best known company to institute “20% time”. Some of Google’s most impressive products have come from employees’ “20% time”, where Google engineers are encouraged to spend one day per week on a side project of their choosing.

As explained by a blog post from Cannon-Brookes to employees:

A startup engineer must be all things – he (or she) is a full time software developer and a part time product manager/ customer support guru/internal systems maven. As a company grows, an engineer spends less time building the things he personally wants in the product. Our hope is that 20% time gives engineers back dedicated stack time – of their own direction – to spend on product innovation features, plugins, fixes or additions that they think are the most important.

20% time at Google has birthed Google News, Gmail, Google Translate, and so on.

Google engineer Alec Proudfoot has stated that: “Just about all the good ideas here at Google have bubbled up from 20% time.”

As law firms face intensifying competition from accounting firms, automation, start-ups in Silicon Valley, and so on, law firms that want to be around over the ensuing decades might want to look at modifying/applying the “20% time rule” to their practice.

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