Why don’t Lawyers like change?

As I write this blog, I am remembering a lovely quote from Kingsley Amis who said: “If you can’t annoy somebody with what you write, I think there’s little point in writing.”

I have spent a lot of hours studying how to get people to change their behaviours and habits. Tech is only as good as the people using it – so we don’t feel that introducing new software or processes is effective if we haven’t also helped legal teams adopt the changes.

I made it my mission to learn about the way that we create habits as humans; what it takes to successfully change habits;  how companies can nudge/manipulate us to behave in certain ways (even before I started to talk about algorithms!); how to communicate change;  how to get all stakeholders to embrace the project; how to ensure everyone understands the “why” behind the change; and how to lead change.

Those areas are vital to successful change management of any project, but even if every element of change management is rolled out well, it still doesn’t 100% mean that Lawyers will adopt the changes you are presenting to them.

I should clarify (for the purpose of this blog) that by Lawyers, I don’t just mean qualified members of staff.  My experience is that non-qualified members of staff can, and do, behave in the same way as the Lawyers – like attracts like, after all, and teams mould together.  I should also stress (before I cause offence) that the results below apply to me too.

In the course of our work, I discovered Dr Larry Richards, an  American non practising Lawyer, who is famous for his profiling work on Lawyers and their personalities.  Some of his results below help explain why it might be that Lawyers don’t like change.

  1. In the area of Autonomy, the average score is 50%. Lawyers have an average Autonomy result of 89%.
  2. In the area of ‘Scepticism’, the average score is again 50%. Lawyers score an average of 90%.
  3. In the area of ‘Resilience’, the average score is 50%. This time, Lawyers have an average score of 30%.

In summary, Lawyers have a VERY high result for wanting to do things OUR way (Autonomy) which combines with a VERY high result for Scepticism (doubtful that the other person is telling us something true/correct).  Plus, we have a lower than average Resilience score. Resilience is a really interesting personality trait – it indicates how quickly we do or do not bounce back after setbacks (include making mistakes in this definition).  So, as Lawyers, we want to do things our way, don’t recover very well from being made a fool of, and probably suspect that most people are idiots.  There – I said it!

To get Lawyers to change (apart from the change management tips I referred to above), you also need to understand and work with these personality traits.

As an additional point from my experience over the past decade – change has to be made easy and painless for Lawyers to adopt because they rarely have time to stop and implement change.

What doesn’t generally encourage Lawyers to change is patronising them; or pestering them with sales calls (even if they really like you as a human).  And never use the tactic “no one else has raised that objection, so it’s fine”, because that sentence translates to us as “nobody else has looked at it properly”.

This also isn’t our “first rodeo”.  We’ve seen HIPS collapse. Tesco Law did not take over. Y2K didn’t have an impact. The Land Registry chain matrix and Veyo from The Law Society both failed. Some tech products that contain all the right buzzwords in sales pitches, aren’t actually being used in the industry.  We aren’t stupid.

And the most important point above all else – Lawyers have clients to look after, and they care about them.  And as a profession, we are also painfully aware that we have to try not to make mistakes (low Resilience remember), and that even when we haven’t made mistakes, the courts can penalise us because we carry Professional Indemnity Insurance (Dreamvar and Mischon de Reya).

Suffice it to say that I don’t know of any Lawyer, team or practice that has changed their work behaviours or habits because people thought that they should.

The current debate around the introduction by The Law Society of the new versions of the TA6 and TA7 in Conveyancing are a good practical example.  Telling Conveyancers that they need to adopt a new form will not make them adopt the form.  Why? Because until 3rd June, there was no explanation from The Law Society of why the changes were being rolled out, no consultation, no advanced warning, and (worse), no clear guidance on where the risk lies for Conveyancers by adopting the new forms.  The new forms are not just the next iteration of the form, they are a step change in how a residential transaction can and should be progressed.  To have rolled them out with more ease, explanations, guidance, training, advice from professional indemnity insurers and even the regulators, and some examples, would have helped significantly.

I am not saying that as a profession we shouldn’t change.  I am at the front edge of leading the change – it’s what we do at The CS Partnership. And a large part of that change will be the greater adoption of technology and the modernisation generally of the way that law firms deliver their services.  But shouting “How stupid are you Dodos?” hasn’t worked to date, and nobody wants the profession to disappear.  If it does, they will be no cheques and balances against the abuse of power (and the power of A.I.).   Addressing change management from the Lawyers’ perspectives can see proper change happen.

Sarah Keegan is a qualified Solicitor, Legal Project Manager, and Co-Founder of The CS Partnership. 

You can contact her at sarah.keegan@thecspartnership.com or on www.thecspartnership.com.

One Response

  1. Interesting article, thanks. Just one point – Y2K wasn’t an issue because of the vast amount of time and money spent preventing it from being so. That’s the problem with preventative actions, the rarely get the praise they should.

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