Lawyer Confusion

I was recently prepping for a podcast with twitterite, @CharonQC, who unfortunately had to postpone it due to family reasons. So, why let some good thinking go to waste?

One of the matters we were going to discuss was that the legal profession has lost its way. Not in the sense that lawyers are struggling with the conundrum of whether they are a business or a profession. Rather, it is my view that one of the reasons that lawyers have not adapted to better and more efficient styles of legal service delivery is because by using these new styles, they become confused over what their role would be if these styles were adopted. To put it in P90X speak – new styles of delivery create “lawyer confusion.”

Traditionally lawyers have done it all, with minimal help from assistants, clerks and students (non-lawyer roles that Jordan Furlong has recently blogged about). [Note: and yes I am well aware that some smaller firms have taken to new styles much more readily than the behemoths]. So, if we begin to restructure the delivery of legal services such that lawyers don’t do it all, and – gasp – may do only a tiny fraction of what is needed, lawyers become confused.

They no longer understand their role.

And if they don’t understand their role, they no longer understand the goals and standards of achievement (filling time sheets with thousands of hours is no longer a goal that is rewarded with advancement).

There may even be fear that a new role leads to less prestige and perhaps lower pay (i.e. a cap of $300,000.00 per annum – horrors!).

Law school didn’t teach me to give work to non-lawyers and technology, confused lawyers say.

And if I don’t do what I used to do, then what is it that I DO do?

What is my worth to the firm and my clients if what I did in the past is now done by non-lawyers?

Confused lawyers are not happy lawyers, and non-happy lawyers push back against new ideas, especially new ideas that take work away. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

The clash between the old order of lawyers who have their fingers in every piece of a file, and the new order of lawyers who act as managers of better processes, will be long and bloody. But ultimately, like an ancient levee during a hurricane, the old ways will be swept aside, never to return; because the old ways cannot withstand the relentless onslaught of greater client expectations, technology and non-lawyer delivery systems.

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