Do You Shift Work or Value?

Paper mail is in such decline the US Postal Service is going to start emailing pictures of the outside of letters to create a new service option.  In Canada, there has been some uproar about a shift from door-to-door delivery to communal boxes.  A mayor even attacked the concrete base of one future delivery site.  As postal services adapt to change, they, like other groups subject to change, are making choices about what’s efficient and what’s valuable.

Who’s Doing the Work, Who Gets the Value?

I was thinking about the Canada Post change and contrasting it with lawyers and legal services.  In the case of mail delivery, there is a fixed amount of work to get the letter to the recipient.  Before shared mailboxes, all of that work was done by the postal service.  You just reached into your mailbox, somewhere near your property, and took the mail.

Once the mailbox is centralized, though, the workload shifts.  The postal service doesn’t get the mail to the door.  Instead, the recipient now has to invest energy to get to the mailbox.  The postal service has offloaded some of its work and, though not realized by the taxpayer, probably saves some money or creates an efficiency.  For itself.

If You Shift the Work, Make it Valuable

If a lawyer puts an online form on her Web site, or sends a PDF form, for potential clients to self-populate with intake information, this can shorten the time needed to meet with the lawyer or her staff.  It creates an efficiency for the lawyer and also, potentially, saves the client fees or time.

Extranets are another example.  Clients may no longer receive the documents they used to, but they can get that information and more granular details by using extranets.  If that’s valuable to them, it makes the workload shift away from the firm worth while.

When Work and Value Overlap

As I thought about the work shift in community postboxes, it struck me that the self-represented litigant forms from and similar automation tools merge the work and value.  The forms represent a shift not only of the mechnical form filling but some of the logic or knowledge behind the form.  The shift, though, enables the person completing the form to realize the entire value of the transaction.  At the end, they have the finished product and can judge whether the time invested is worth the savings.  The value has shifted to them with the work.

In the postal world, the equivalent would seem to be e-mail.  It may be that some services can only shift work, not value.  Lawyers, however, would seem to be able to make strategic choices about how to use technology to shift work and ensure that some value travels with it.

This post was originally published on Linkedin.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.