In the internal war between firms and their timekeepers over entering time, a new battle has been launched: shaming and punishing timekeepers as though they are 3-year-olds who have been sent to time out.

Two major law firms—DLA Piper in the U.S. and Howard Kennedy in the U.K.—have reached a point where their recalcitrant timekeepers are not keeping time, and like a frustrated parent, they’ve had it up to here. So they’re using tactics like “Red Cards” and locking up computers.

There’s a lot of agony on both sides here: timekeepers have always resisted tracking time, but the firms want them to understand that they are not just practicing law, but also running a business. Which, you know, expects a profit.

Of course, like a wayward teen who has gotten away with things for a long time,  firms are really struggling to reset the culture to one of total timesheet compliance. So, what’s left? Time out and getting grounded, which in this case means financial sanctions or no computer access. Those are pretty big sticks—but will they work?

I wish I had the answer for how to fix extreme problems like this, but I don’t. These firms have gotten themselves into an unfixable mess. I am interested in watching to see how these sanctions work—I am not necessarily opposed to these tactics—but this is a deep hole they’ve dug for themselves.

DLA Piper’s Time Out 

This firm has devised a “Red Card” system for punishing senior lawyers that do not bill at least 7.5 hours of work each day. It works by issuing a “card” to partners who do not meet their quota. For partners who miss their targets consistently, it could then result in financial sanctions, such as having drawings and distributions withheld.

Howard Kennedy’s Grounding

Fee-earners at this firm must average at least 5.6 billable hours of work each day. Those who fail to do this on a given week will first get a “warning” in the form of an email reminder. If this fails to have the desired effect over the course of a month, the firm will then block access to their computer.

The idea here is to get the lawyers to feel shame at having to ask for their computer to be unlocked before being allowed to continue with their work.

Of Privileges and Punishments 

It’s actually a shame in and of itself that it’s gotten this bad. Will the wayward timekeepers see the light, or will these policies backfire? Let’s hope for all involved that the firm-timekeeper relationship improves quickly.