Efficiency, Productivity and Swords of Truth

After 3 days of ABA TECHSHOW, brimming with hyper-enthusiasm like a kid in a candy store on a sugar-high, in previous years I would burst back into the office ready to implement everything that I learned right now. EVERYTHING. And RIGHT NOW people – I want all those changes implemented yesterday! But, this year I’ve learned better.

I am taking a few days out, isolating myself in the rural countryside, away from telephones, clients and deadlines. It’s not exactly the Australian outback – I’m in a rented beach house 10 minutes drive from my favourite winery, d’Arenberg Estate. Walking in the sand along the base of the sandstone cliffs, listening to the sound of crashing waves, seeing the leaves on the trees turn golden-brown, and knowing that a glass of delicious Shiraz waits for me by the fireside upon my return, I have reached a state of tranquility. I now have the opportunity to reflect upon and evaluate what I have seen and heard.

Being left in peace for a few days gives me breathing space to make a considered judgment about the path to walk over the next 12 months. We lawyers stand at a cross-road. If we fail to choose the right path, then we will not simply place our own livelihoods at risk, but we will also jeopardise the proper administration of justice. Momentous decisions are sometimes better made – and made better – elsewhere than the maelstrom of a law office.

This year, the most important thing that I grasped was the difference between efficiency and productivity. Efficiency is a measure of how skilfully, quickly and cost-effectively you do something. Productivity, in contrast, is a measure of how skilfully, quickly and cost-effectively you do something that is actually useful. It’s efficient to plough a field using a tractor instead of a horse, but I’m not a farmer, so learning how to drive a tractor is an unproductive waste of my time. I now want to differentiate all the amazing things at ABA TECHSHOW between those that boost my efficiency from those that boost my productivity.

Productivity alone may be sufficient for business, but law is a profession. Someone wiser than me once observed that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. At a time when government intelligence agencies – both in Australia and the United States – have had their machinations exposed, who better to keep a lookout than lawyers abreast of the problems, and their potential – productive – solutions. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let us lawyers illuminate the way ahead.

When you next pass by the statue of the Roman goddess Justitia on your way into court, notice not only that she holds a set of scales, but in her other hand she wields a sword. That sword is the sword of truth. Smartphones and software may be lots of fun, but in the hands of lawyers they’re also swords of truth. And it’s up to us to wield those swords for the proper administration of justice.

Good luck. See you next year.

Featured image: “justice statue with sword and scale. cloudy sky in the background.” from Shutterstock.

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