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The History of Timesheets

This week’s NYTimes Magazine economics column is all about timesheets. While the whole thing is worth a read, I found the history of timesheets especially interesting:

The notion of charging by units of time was popularized in the 1950s, when the American Bar Association was becoming alarmed that the income of lawyers was falling precipitously behind that of doctors (and, worse, dentists). The A.B.A. published an influential pamphlet, “The 1958 Lawyer and His 1938 Dollar,” which suggested that the industry should eschew fixed-rate fees and replicate the profitable efficiencies of mass-production manufacturing. Factories sold widgets, the idea went, and so lawyers should sell their services in simple, easy-to-manage units. The A.B.A. suggested a unit of time — the hour — which would allow a well-run firm to oversee its staff’s productivity as mechanically as a conveyor belt managed its throughput. This led to generations of junior associates working through the night in hopes of making partner and abusing the next crop. It was adopted by countless other service professionals, including accountants.

August 4, 2013 // This post is about: , , ,

Comments

  • Max Kalehoff says:

    That’s funny, because atomizing things into a cost-per-unit is exactly the strategy of ruthless procurement in its quest to get the very lowest cost possible. I guess the lesson is: be careful what you wish for.

  • Brenda Rivera says:

    Oh. I was not aware of these things. And yes Max, ‘be careful what you wish for’!

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