It’s All in the Game: Managing Partners Come to Grips with “Gamification”

by Pamela Woldow

Many managing partners tell us they are struggling to get their arms around new tools and techniques for driving more efficiency and cost-effectiveness into legal service delivery. Firms are seeing more and more RFPs in which clients make increasingly draconian demands for better management and control of legal work. AFAs (alternative fee arrangements) are reshaping not just pricing and profitability, but the whole way in which matters are staffed and billed.

LPM (legal project management) and LPI (legal process improvement) map out prescriptive approaches for scoping, budgeting, performing and monitoring engagements. And, in a threat to traditional law firm turf, LPOs (legal process outsourcers) and other alternative forms of service delivery threaten to take over huge amounts of commodity tasks that were historically handled by law firms.

Game On

Now another neologism has popped up to bedevil law firm leaders:  “Gamification.”  In plain English, this describes approaching work as if one were playing a videogame. Gamification is not the same as game theory, which describes the study of strategic decision-making using mathematical models. Gamification, which first took hold in Silicon Valley and has since gone viral, involves translating the features that motivate players in video games into non-game settings – settings like litigation, transactional work, business development and other high-stakes legal activities.

When applied to law, gamification is not about making legal service delivery into a game, or even about having fun. It’s about knowing the score. A fundamental axiom of legal project management is that “if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed,” and let’s be clear: today’s legal services need to be driven by effective performance metrics. New generations of legal software are popping up that, if embraced actively by law firms, can help lawyers budget, track costs, and measure productivity in unprecedented detail. The bottom line of all this measuring, of course, is the goal of providing clear, consistent, and cost-effective value to the client.  Unfortunately, however, most law firms have an abysmal record for adopting even the most basic metrics and tools. 

But all is not lost, because we know one thing for certain:  in any setting, and particularly in law firms, employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.  So what do law firms do?  They measure billable hours, they incent billable hours, and they celebrate (that is, give bonuses for) billable hours.  So, guess what clients get?  You got it  — billable hours, lots and lots of them (and as we’ve often said, there is no direct correlation between the number of billable hours and the amount of value conferred).

Conversely, what do law firms fail to do?  They fail to measure, incent or celebrate the types of behaviors that clients value — like efficiency, creative ways of resolving matters faster, cost predictability, adhering to realistic budgets, and effective monitoring of legal activity and legal spend in order to avoid surprises.

Getting Lawyers into the Game

So here’s where gamification comes in. As Frank Strong, communications director with the Business of Law Software Solutions division of LexisNexis puts it, “gamification is a novel idea, and while the label itself may not endear itself to the nature of law, the concept is spot on: using the concept of games to drive user engagement and solve problems…If we as an industry can tap into [lawyers’] competitive nature to drive change…then we’ll be in a better place.”

We all know that lawyers are challenge junkies: they love personal success experiences where excellence is clearly established by objectively-measurable outcomes. If and when it evolves more broadly within law firms, gamification will engender a work environment where – just like videogames:

  • Every action is meticulously tracked and scored
  • Everyone aspires to progress upward through discrete levels of achievement  
  • Points and awards are given  
  • Work processes are structured to keep performers engaged and focused on producing the highest level of performance.

What You Want is What You Get

Theoretically, gamification incentives can be engineered either to spark greater  individual initiative or to foster better collaboration among disparate team roles and functions. In either case, the idea is to drive a powerful sense of engagement into tasks that performers find inherently tedious or repetitive.

Ray Bayley, CEO of Novus Law, a global legal services firm that boasts “measurably faster, more accurate and less expensive” ways of handling document-related discovery, contract management and corporate governance functions, is a self-professed metrics freak. The former head of North American business process outsourcing (BPO) for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ray is high on the motivational value of gamification.

We have long used analysis of metrics to improve work processes, but the challenge in dealing with complex work that requires a high degree of focus is to keep our performers’ heads in the game. Using gamification practices, we are moving beyond ‘Total Quality Management’ to ‘Total Engagement.’

“To do this,” says Bayley, “we are now focusing more on the human aspect, repurposing process metrics so our performers can use them to assess and measure their own progress – to see how they are doing and how they stack up against their prior performance. We can do this both individually and collectively, asking ‘How are we doing both as a group and as members of the team?’” 

Can Law Firms Do It?

As a firm built around metrics and the efficient, accurate handling of high volume and increasingly sophisticated tasks, Novus Law obviously represents an ideal platform for gamification.  But can law firms, accustomed to seeing all matters and all lawyers as unique, motivate project task teams to collaborate better by turning to gamification?

“Some firms really get it,” says Bayley, speaking of law firm responses to escalating client demands for cost control and efficiency. “Some have no problem partnering with us – with our enormous emphasis on efficient processes and measurable quality management. But for most firms it’s still a stretch to be metrics-driven.  They just aren’t ready to rethink how to keep their lawyers consistently engaged, and they aren’t yet ready to retool.”

Yet as Frank Strong suggests, despite all the concerns of the doubters and scoffers, the whole legal landscape would appear to be a fertile ground for gamification techniques, particularly where different types of service providers collaborate to optimize value rather than compete for the same business. 

For example, the article “Who’s Eating Law Firms’ Lunch?,” describes how Deanna Johnston, General Counsel of Fireman’s Fund, required her outside firms to collaborate with Novus Law in handling various litigation tasks. This hybrid service delivery approach has saved Fireman’s Fund between 15% and 30% per case on outside counsel fees, and Ms. Johnston is, of course, very pleased.

On the Other Hand

Not everyone thinks gamification is such a hot idea. In a recent column entitled “The ‘Gamification’ of the Office Approaches,” Wall Street Journal columnist Farhad Manjoo acknowledges gamification’s momentum: “If you work the information business; if you sell, market, create, track or are involved in any other endeavor that can be quantified, gamification is coming for you.”

But, he adds, “I, for one, am dreading it.” Manjoo questions whether the translation of every work action into winning or losing “as part of a system engineered to keep you addicted” won’t result in performers who are “crushed by metrics, constantly watched over, and infantilized by your boss’s attempt to turn you into an automaton.”

Skeptics like Manjoo are worried about what they see as manipulative tactics to  turn the unmotivated aspects of performers’ jobs into a more highly motivated competition. Manjoo notes that “what we can’t tell is whether these measures are worth the psychic cost.  What worries me is the potential for stifling creativity and flexibility in the workplace, and the growing sensation of being watched, and measured, in everything we do.”

As the legal profession as a whole becomes increasingly metrics-driven, the successor generation of lawyers and other types of legal service providers all will grow up in an environment where various forms of points and scorecards are the norm, from “competency-based performance evaluation” to partnership decisions made exclusively on the basis of quantitative measures.

Even Manjoo senses that the tipping point is upon us: “I’m not asking you these questions as if your opinion matters. In fact, it does not. All evidence suggests that your work one day will operate like a videogame to be conquered, rather than a craft to be perfected.”

So is gamification a passing fad or a performance enhancement technique destined to be an integral part of the legal profession’s “New Normal?” Stay tuned for late-breaking developments, but you’d better be prepared to play along.

Written by:

Pamela Woldow

Legal Leadership on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.