Improve Your Legal Practice Through Gamification

At the beginning of each year, adults all over the country promise themselves that this will be the year they finally get fit. Like those adults, I resolved in January to get more exercise. It’s now six weeks into the new year and I’m finding that I need a little more encouragement to stick with my New Year’s resolution. In prior years I’ve tried gym memberships, private trainers and even bribes to get off the couch and get into the gym. This year, I’m thinking of trying something new: Fitocracy combines the support of a social network with the incentives and rewards of a game. It is designed to help you progress from one level of fitness to the next, while sharing the experience with like-minded people who are willing to cheer you along the way.

Fitocracy is a good introduction to gamification (i.e., the use of game design, techniques and elements in non-game contexts). The gamification elements will be familiar to most readers: points, quests, levels of achievement and badges. However, the elements alone do not make a successful game. For that a game designer must first master gamification techniques in order to employ them in the service of a worthwhile goal. This means understanding what motivates human beings and then setting up a series of challenges and consequences that help a participant achieve specific goals.

Gamification showed its power initially through the reach of multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft. Then applications such as Fitocracy showed us how gamification could be used to effect behavior change. Now gamification is set to show even greater impact in the possibility that it will help us find the fun in otherwise tedious business processes.

If you’re looking for business processes that could benefit from a little fun to boost participation and compliance, you need look no further than some of the processes underpinning the practice of law. While many lawyers would prefer to be left alone to practice law, the reality is that they need to pay attention to the business side of things if their practices are to thrive. Unfortunately, not all lawyers have the inclination or talent for business. As a result, basic business processes such as submitting time records are frequently poorly executed.

Firms have responded to the persistent problem of late time records by one or a combination of the following tactics: frequent reminders (both human and electronic), fire drills to meet a client request for a bill, shaming, suspending direct deposit privileges, and imposing financial penalties up to and including withholding paychecks. The problem is that these tactics tend to rely more on fear than encouragement and rarely result in a change in behavior that is more than temporary at best.

Behavioral science and social media now provide a possible path to achieve a more lasting form of behavior modification through the use of gamification. To be clear, this does not mean you simply slap a few badges onto your time and billing system. Rather, you start by identifying the desired behavior and taking a deep look at the barriers to the desired behavior. Next, find the gamification techniques and elements that can help lawyers and staff overcome those barriers and sustain a more business-like approach to their time records. In short, you design a system that motivates them to participate and stay engaged.

We know that keeping people engaged in their work can be tough in any business. When you introduce gamification into your system, you have to keep the engagement issue top of mind. The game itself must be so compelling that participants continuously opt to stay engaged. Further, you need to be sure that the rewards you provide through the game are consistent with internal policies and established organizational compensation arrangements. Finally you have to ensure that the challenges are not beyond the reach of the player. Otherwise you could find that common incentives such as leaderboards in fact act as disincentives since a low standing on the board can cause a participate to give up hope and simply disengage.

If you think time records and law firm finances are too important to be the subject of games, think again. Pilots use simulation games to train. So do surgeons. In fact, I’d like to challenge you to think hard about how fun might be used to transform engagement in the sometimes tedious business processes that are necessary for the health of your law practice. When I tried this challenge, I identified several possible candidates for gamification in a law firm:

  • Time Entries — Who is consistently submitting timely records?
  • Business Development — Who is making the most contacts? Who is converting their ontacts into work? Who is generating profitable work?
  • Billing & Collections — Who is current on sending out bills (according to the schedule agreed with the client)? Who is collecting the most?
  • Realization — Which matters/practices have the highest realization rate and the lowest rate of write offs?
  • CRM Database — Who is doing the best job of keeping contact information updated?

Do you have problems with these processes in your firm? Are there other processes in your firm that could use a boost? Do you need to find a new way to enhance engagement in and compliance with key business procedures? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, consider gamification and how it might help you.

While books have been written on the subject and are well worth your attention, here are some guidelines for getting started with gamification:

  1. Identify a business goal or challenge that might be met through gamification. Typically, this should be something compelling that has not already achieved the desired level of participation. If the business process involved is generally perceived to be tedious, it might be an especially good candidate for gamification.
  2. Identify the participant behaviors that would allow your firm to reach this business goal.
  3. Create personality profiles representing a handful of typical players. What are their motivations? What are their usual behaviors with respect to the business goal? How can you encourage them to exhibit the desired behaviors? What hinders them from participating fully to help you achieve the goal? Remember, you need to encourage their voluntary participation. If they are required to participate, then this is not a game.
  4. Sketch out several game scenarios that would provide the range of motivators needed to engage these typical players. These motivators include types of meaningful choices, challenges and rewards offered within the game, as well as different paths to the end goal. Remember, if the game offers a single path and a single set of choices, challenges and rewards, you run the risk of catering to only one group of participants, while pushing the others away from full engagement.
  5. Confirm that the choices, challenges and rewards offered by your game are consistent with your firm’s policies and compensation arrangements. In addition, ensure that nothing in your game runs afoul of the law. (This includes ensuring you have not violated another designer’s intellectual property rights in the design of badges, leaderboards and other gaming elements.)
  6. At this point, pause to check your progress. If all you have done is added a points system, badges and leaderboard to a tedious process, you should stop because this is not gamification. Rather, it is an invitation to participants to walk away after an initial trial of a one-size-does-not-fit-all system.
  7. Consider whether to build the game internally, engage a consultant or a work with a vendor that offers a turnkey gamification product (e.g., Badgeville, BigDoor, Bunchball, etc. ). If you are using a vendor, be careful not to fall prey to the temptation of an “off-the-shelf” game. Your game must be geared to your people and your process.
  8. Don’t underestimate the power of social interactions to keep players engaged and focused on the business goal. For example, could you form guilds (as in World of Warcraft) to encourage members of the group to submit their time records on time?

If you would like to learn more about the art and science of gamification, read For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter. (The authors are lawyers, academics and World of Warcraft enthusiasts.) And, before you start designing, play a few games yourself. Once you’ve experienced the power of fun to alleviate a tedious chore, you’ll start looking for ways to gamify your legal practice.

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