Gamification is a widely used technique in the business environment. While the term is relatively new, the concept has evolved since its introduction as early as 1973 when Charles Coonradt founded the consultancy group, The Game of Work. In 1984, Coonradt wrote a book by the same name and ever since the idea has transformed into real business applications.1 Gamification uses game elements and game-design techniques in non-game contexts to educate or motivate people. By adding an element of play to an application to better capture and hold a person's attention, an individual's capacity to learn increases and concurrently influences behavior. Since the legal industry often follows business trends, an appropriate question to ask is whether there is a place for gamification in law firms. The growing number of articles written in 2012-2013 confirms that law firms are already using various types of gaming techniques. In fact, lawyers, law firms, and the legal industry are perfect players for gaming!
A common example of a game element used in a business setting is offering rewards as incentives. As individuals become more proficient at a certain skill within the company, they accumulate points, which can be traded in for cash or gifts, or simply acquire bragging rights with peers.2 Whether the prize is a pizza lunch or recognition on the firm's intranet, staff and lawyers are motivated to contribute so they can win boasting rights. An added bonus is that working as a team improves morale as participants are unified with a common goal.
Businesses have used game mechanics for years, often in training and human resource settings to provide users with incentives to perform particular and, quite often, tedious tasks.3 Game elements incorporated into on boarding and training programs will actually engage new hires in a process that allows them to connect with peers, learn about the company, and demonstrate their skills. In a report released in March 2013, Boston-based Aberdeen Group found companies that incorporate gaming techniques into their on boarding process have improved critical business metrics including engagement and retention.4 Just imagine an orientation program that is fun and meaningful for new hires, rather than days of information presented but not digested.
In the law firm environment, a gamified Law Practice Program (LPP) could support the development of other skills in future lawyers, such as marketing and practice development. In today's competitive legal market, law firms expect more from their associates and lateral hires. According to Andrew Brock, a current Articling Student at WeirFoulds LLP in Toronto and a former professional gamer, a useful tool would be a game to train associates how to build a network and how to build and execute a business plan.5 Recent law school graduates have grown up with recreational and educational gaming so it is likely they would be tuned into this type of training as opposed to traditional business development programs.
Game elements that reflect an individual's competitive nature would do well in the law firm setting. The legal industry is obsessed with rankings and lists, appealing to the competitive nature of a lawyer's psyche. From U.S. News & World Report's Best Law Schools rankings, ratings in Martindale-Hubbell, and listings in The Best Lawyers in America, attorneys are fixated on attending the best schools, having an AV rating in Martindale-Hubbell, and being included in The Best Lawyers lists. Publicizing rankings, positive behavior, and outcomes is a key feature of gamification. By gamifying the year-end collection process, attorneys are incentivized to improve their collections so their name appears at the top on leader boards viewed by all attorneys in their firm.
Gamification techniques have worked in the business sector and there are guidelines to ensure that similar initiatives will succeed in the legal sector. V. Mary Abraham provides a number of guidelines in her article, "Improve Your Legal Practice through Gamification."6 First and foremost, she writes, identify a business goal that might be met through gamification. Starting out with game play ideas before identifying goals is not advisable because not every process lends itself to gaming. A process or task that is a serious, risk-prone business function might not be a good candidate. For example, the creation and maintenance of ethical walls bears a relatively high amount of risk and should not be taken lightly by introducing game-like elements. On the other hand, a tedious business process is a good candidate. Most firms have attorneys who are consistently delinquent entering their billable time. Rather than constantly prompting attorneys to enter their time or punishing them by withholding paychecks, gamification could be used to encourage timely compliance. In addition to positive recognition of attorneys who submit punctual time entry, attorneys could earn points toward year-end bonuses since their actions have helped establish the firm's profitability.
Gamification is about strategically using game mechanics to address the fundamental needs we all share: the desire for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism. Good gamification works when it satisfies these universal human needs. However, a Gartner report predicts 80 percent of current gamified applications will fall short of their intended business objectives. The addition of game mechanics is not a guarantee of desired results. In actuality, a poorly,designed gamification experience will flounder.7
Sketch out several game scenarios that provide the range of motivators needed to engage the typical players. It is important to identify the individuals whom the business process touches: partners, associates, and/or administrative staff. Participants may also be comprised of multiple generations with different reasons for participating. You will need to determine a variety of motivators to engage the players to voluntarily participate. The more you know about what makes your audience tick, the more effectively you can gamify in a way that speaks to them. The suggested game element is not "one size fits all." It should be tailored to fit business needs and individual motivators.
If possible, consider incorporating social media into your game. Social interactions will keep players engaged and focused on the business goal. Attorneys are competitive and will keep tabs not only of their own scores but also of their peers. Social media can be used to remind players to participate. Remember, cooperation and self-expression are just as important as competition.
One way to assure that your gamification strategy is working is to have a measurement structure in place on day one so you can track user behaviors to see whether the business goal is met. Metrics will enable you to confidently evaluate the success or potential problems with your gaming approach. A pilot group of users will also help you redefine the tactics in the event you are not capturing results.
Gaming in law firms and the legal industry is a natural fit and is already being used in bits and pieces. When implemented with a strategic plan which thoughtfully considers a business task in need of improvement, attorneys and staff become more engaged and knowledgeable. The combined synergy of gaming techniques with law firm culture and lawyer personalities is win-win for all.
1 Wikipedia, "Gamification," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification.
2 Tam Harbert, "Game On," Law Technology News, http://www.law.com/jsp/lawtechnologynews/PubArticleLTN.jsp?id=1202621541860.
3 Debra Donston-Miller, "7 Examples: Put Gamification To Work," InformationWeek, 9 May 2012, http://www.informationweek.com/7-examples-put-gamification-to-work/d/d-id/1104211?page_number=1#slideshowPageTop.
4 Martin Berman-Gorvine, "New Survey Reveals One in Six Companies Using Gaming Techniques to Make Onboarding Fun," Bulletin to Management, 26 March 2013.
5 Paulette Pommells, "The 21st Century Lawyer: Gamifying the Legal Profession?" TLA Mirror, Issue 1, September 2013.
6 Abraham, Law Technology Today, 20 Feb. 2013.
7 Rajat Paharia, 8 Steps to Avoid Gamification Failure, IMediaConnection, 16 Jan. 2013, http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/33445.asp.
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