The social media has been abuzz lately with the perplexing question, “Why are lawyers so resistant to change and the adoption of technology in particular?” It seems if we could only “crack the code” of lawyer adoption and change management, the evolution of legal services delivery could be improved more quickly and effectively. For example, see the Twitter feed at #LegalEvolution from its conference held February 26, 2014.
Those of us who have successfully made our way into the practice of law after the undergraduate, graduate, law school and bar exam experiences might ask the same thing.
Although not new, psychological studies and neuroimaging of the human brain which informs theories of brain activity and human behavior are beginning to converge to answer that question with objective evidence.
We were wired that way!
For over 20 years, Larry Richard J.D., Ph.D. has been studying the nature of lawyer personality. He has conducted thousands of personality profile assessments to support his theories. He chose to do so after his own journey through the academic and practical application of lawyer training left him empty and unsatisfied. He came from a family of lawyers. Why did he not thrive as they did? Much of his work is summarized and available at his blogsite, The Lawyer Brain Blog. His website, The Lawyer Brain is presently inactive. His research findings were once available there and will hopefully be accessible again at some point to the general public.
His first article, “The Lawyer Personality”, summarizing his findings was published in the ABA Journal in 1993. More recently The Managing Partner Forum published some of his research in a downloadable PDF format at “Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed“. Using the Caliper personality assessment tool, Dr. Richard has captured over 5000 lawyer profiles. His research reveals that if we have made it through the academic rigor of law school and found practice success we have some surprisingly common and unusually predominant personality traits.
For example, successful legal rainmakers (“finders”) are somewhat more empathetic and resilient than their “service” colleagues (“grinders”). More uniformly applicable to the tribe of successful lawyers are statistically significant elevated personality traits of abstract reasoning, urgency, skepticism and autonomy in contrast to the general population. Unfortunately, lawyers are significantly less well equipped with the personality traits of resilience and sociability compared with others. Of course, there are exceptions to every statistical trend. However, in our moments of honesty, we know these are traits our tribe exhibits “in spades”.
(Some studies indicate that the law school curriculum and experience weeds out those who cannot acquire these traits, enforces those who innately have them and forces many of us to live in professional tension with our innate personality in order to succeed and survive. See: Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-Determination Theory, Kennon M. Sheldon and Lawrence S. Krieger, Pers Soc Psychol Bull 33; 883 (first published online May 4, 2007) The personality assessment evidence reveals that unlike any other graduate program or professional academic experience, law school rewires the behavioral norms of law students. One might ask why the curse of addictions, divorce and suicide are so prevalent in our profession? That is another conversation for another time.)
However, as it concerns our ability to adapt to change and technology advances, these personality traits and behavioral norms of our profession are set in rigid opposition to “doing things differently.”
In the course on legal project management I am teaching at Vanderbilt University Law School this term, we have been fortunate to acquire the excellent newly published text on legal project management by David Rueff and Susan Lambreth, The Power of Legal Project Management: A Practical Handbook. They have included a chapter relating Larry Richard’s work detailing how the lawyer personality impacts the adoption of technology and legal project management in particular. Convincing “off the chart” urgent, skeptical, abstract reasoning and autonomous personality types that taking the time to scope a plan in concrete detail with a methodology used by engineers and software developers as a part of a multidisciplinary team is akin to convincing Chicken Little the sky is not really falling. Data doesn’t help. Add to that mix our deficiencies in sociability and resilience and a toxic brew of resistance to change should not be surprising, but expected.
Larry Richard (via David Rueff and Susan Lambreth) reminds us that our greatest strengths can become our greatest weaknesses. Managing lawyers through the change of their legal service delivery models will happen neither easily or quickly. But it will happen as the visionaries and the early adopters among us begin to realize the value of managing our legal matters more efficiently to greater profitability. As lawyers, our skepticism and risk aversion require us to allow others to test the margins and when the risk has been managed to our satisfaction we will become the “first to follow”.
As a profession, we are in the process of crossing the chasm of change in our service delivery methods to better serve our clients which will allow the pragmatic cautious lawyer finally to be able to pronounce, “I knew that all the time. Anyone who thinks differently is an idiot.”
Oh hasten the day!