Dentons trials workflow app that “could remove” unconscious bias

Dentons: Trialling app

A global law firm is set to trial a workflow app developed by one of its associates, who says it could save City practices up to £6m a year by making work allocation more efficient.

It also claims to introduce a degree of fairness that can counter unconscious bias and reduce stress on overworked employees by giving them some autonomy in the work allocation process.

Capacity, invented by William Dougherty, who works at Dentons, operates by distributing work to available employees who self-certify they have the capacity and list their skills. It monitors who is doing what and presents dashboards to show managers activity levels.

By effectively limiting the discretion of partners to give work to favoured juniors, in theory it removes from employees the obligation to take on new projects when they are already busy and ensures less-favoured staff also have the chance to shine.

The app’s website claims that “scientific research has found that autonomy over tasks is more than twice as likely to improve job satisfaction than salary, working hours, and working environment”.

It stated inefficiency in work allocation currently costs large City firms between £0.6m and £6m a year. The app has the potential to save “millions of pounds in opportunity costs”, it said.

Capacity – which was co-founded by Peter Hickling, who is its part-time chief technology officer – has recently joined the Barclays Eagle Lab, a lawtech incubator supported by the Law Society.

Mr Dougherty told Legal Futures that firms would be incentivised to use it because autonomy had been shown to have a “tangible impact on diversity, inclusion and the happiness of the workforce”, which correlated closely to increased profits.

Partners who balked at giving up discretion could nonetheless be assisted by the app because it has what Mr Dougherty called an “assign” function that would make direct allocation of work possible.

Explaining the app in normal operation, he said: “Capacity asks users for two main types of input: live capacity… and task information. We are merely replacing the time taken to give instructions with the creation of a task card containing those instructions.”

Much of the information captured by the app would be taken automatically from time recording, calendars, and so on.

He added: “Our process is significantly more efficient than the processes currently employed by most firms, which involve walking or emailing around, allocation managers, and capacity charts or meetings.”

The app would work for larger firms but also smaller ones too, he said. “Although the benefits will arguably scale up with the size of a team, the benefits… can be seen by any team that has a pool of individuals who are all eligible for the same task.”

Future plans for the app could include white labelling it if there was demand from clients. Meanwhile, said Mr Dougherty: “The important thing for us is to help our clients to get real benefit from the product and to help foster a positive work culture in the legal industry.”

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