How to Change a Stubborn Lawyer

Since 2008, we’ve seen a lot of articles about how to get lawyers to be more efficient, cut costs for the client and more. We’ve even seen how bad they are at using basic computer programs such as Microsoft Office. But with all these ideas and theories on how to make law more efficient there is one giant road block: lawyers. Perhaps in no other profession do individuals seem to be as stubborn and resist change as much.

But does some of it have to do with how change is thrust upon them?

I am one of a handful of lawyers who is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt; essentially, an expert in systems and metric based process improvement which originated from manufacturing.  I believe whole heartedly that law firms can improve the legal process through Six Sigma and other methodologies. These methodologies use statistics, process analysis, and systems analysis to accomplish structured problem solving to improve quality and efficiency.

At it is core, Lean Six Sigma is answering “what is our goal as determined by the client’s value proposition, and how can we better achieve it?” While the application of Lean Six Sigma is an article unto itself, a basic tenet in improving a process is that you should always go to the Gemba; always go to where the work is happening.  In this way, you can see the realities of how the work is being done from the perspective of those doing the work, not how management thinks work is being done. However, I was disappointed to read an article by Adam Mowry that decried fellow Six Sigma Black Belts as a meddlesome bothers that made it difficult for in-house counsel to get their job done.  Though, I’m not surprised by Mowry’s opinion, and I agree with him based on his description of events.

There are many consultants and process improvement experts who portray themselves as process experts. Meaning, they believe they know the process better than you. That is wrong. Period. A consultant may be the process improvement expert, but the lawyers, paralegals, or other administrative staff are the experts for their respective jobs and should never be told how to do their job by someone who has never held that position.

This concept has been popularized by the TV show Undercover Boss. The CEO of a company goes “undercover” as a new employee, and tries to do the job only to quickly learn it is not as easy as originally thought. However, the CEOs learn that by going to the work, you can see the realities of what is happening and engage the worker to share their insights since they, not the CEO or consultant, are the process expert.

So, why are lawyers stubborn and resistant to change? Because, like everyone else, they don’t like being told how to do their jobs. Unfortunately, being dictated to or talked down to by consultants is not as uncommon as it should be. However, this is an easy fix: engage lawyers and demonstrate that the goal of process improvements is to make their own life better, not just the firm’s equity partners. Solicit their feedback on the current process, and it becomes a collaborative effort.

I still believe lawyers will be resistant to change, but by showing them that it benefits them personally, and by engaging them to utilize their expertise in the process to make improvements, they will certainly give you more credibility than if you force seemingly arbitrary changes to their work.

Featured image: “Close up of a business man crossing his arms in an office” from Shutterstock.

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