Lawyers Are / Aren’t Knowledge Workers!?

Well, I will agree with Dennis M. Kennedy’s recent post on this: the idea that “Attorneys Aren’t Knowledge Workers“, by Ron Baker, is worth to read and is thought provoking.

Ron presents an opinion essentially to the effect that attorneys are not knowledge workers because “being a knowledge worker also requires that the leaders of your organization recognize and treat you like one.

Lawyers are knowledge workers. I fundamentally disagree, for semantic reasons, with the proposition that “lawyers are not knowledge workers”.

I do not take issue with the laudable characteristics that should be associated with “lawyers as knowledge workers”. As written in Ron’s post; knowledge workers:

  • Don’t have billable hour quotas.
  • Spend at least 15% of their time innovating and creating better ways to add value to customers (this destroys efficiency under the old metrics!).
  • Understand that judgments and discernment are far more important than measurements in assessing performance.
  • Are focused on outputs, results and value, not inputs, efforts and costs.
  • Don’t fill out timesheets accounting for every 6 minutes of their day.
  • Are trusted by their leaders to the right thing for the firm and its customers.
  • Are passionate and self-motivated, and don’t need constant supervision.

The previous list has little to do with knowledge workers and everything to do with effective executives. Take a look at the short book written by Peter DruckerDrucker, Peter, “The Effective Executive“. Note: being an effective executive does not require supervision of employees, rather, it is a question of attitude and focus and the delivery of meaningful contributions to your organization, according to Peter Drucker in this book., you will immediately recognize most if not all previous list items.

If data is a series a facts, information is data given context and knowledge is information internalized (the context of these definitions is available here); being a knowledge worker is not a question of fact but of degree. Some people are “more” knowledge workers than others because of the degree to which (a) they have to rely on internalized knowledge to produce their services or products; (b) they have to apply analytical and intuitive skills to effectively sort through internalized knowledge in order to better serve their clients; and (c) they have to invest time and effort to internalize legal information, thus gaining legal knowledge.

On the latter count, lawyers have to invest significant time and effort, years of effort, in order to gain their credentials and to be admitted to the Bar. In addition, they typically have to resort both on this internalized knowledge and on their own analytical skills to deliver legal advice and services. This can be all done with time sheets in 6 minute increments… We may not like it, we may resent billable hour quotas, we may resent the lack of trust; but in the end, the degree to which lawyers are knowledge workers should not be measured with the effective executive yardstick.

The issue of whether lawyers should be treated as effective executives is not a knowledge worker issue, in fact, it is a non issue. If a lawyer has it in him or her to be an effective executive, that person will, eventually, be treated as one by the organization. If this does not happen, chances are that lawyer will find a new home.


  1. Bingo! Patrick takes the prize… By the same reasoning, Lawyers and anyone else who takes a business approach to their line of work, cannot be a knowledge worker. Hogwash! (I’ve got better vocabulary, but this is a family program…). Also, challenge the idea, rather than redefining the original term. We’ve barely put Peter to rest, and he’s already down there spinning. Shame!