The ancient Greeks had two words to express the notion of time: chronos and kairos. The former was used to connote chronological time, and the latter was used to connote a qualitatively different kind of time– a moment of indeterminate length, in which something of significance occurs. Chronos is quantitative in nature, while kairos is more qualitative in nature. Chronos measures the time that passes between events in life, while kairos is what Geir Berthelsen, founder of the think tank known as The World Institute of Slowness, refers to as the “slow moment”.
Slowness is not:
What Does Slowness Have To Do With The Practice Of Law?
Think about the word deliberate and its derivation, deliberation. What could be more germane to the practice of law? As a judge, as an arbitrator, mediator, or as a practitioner– what could be more relevant?
Taking the time necessary to understand why a client might need the involvement of an attorney in his/her litigation matter or business transaction, and to think about how the clients need might best be served. Taking the time to “walk the walk”, not just “talk the talk”. Taking the time to care, and give the client’s legal challenge(s) real, deliberate thought.
Think about the word counsel or its derivation, counselor. Both require that one listen with care. Both require thoughtfulness. Both require trust– trust that is earned slowly. Trust that is earned over time, both in the sense of chronos time and kairos time.
It’s also about credibility. Credibility among your peers. Credibility with your clients. It’s about professionalism and a sense of character that comes from living and working slowly. Sure, competence is an assumed part of credibility, but it’s really about how you express your competence. Is it borne of concern for another or is it a borne of self-importance? Clients — and your peers — can tell the difference, and they will react accordingly.
How Can A Law Firm Foster The Notion Of Slowness As Part Of Its Business Model?
The economy and related events of recent past, present a classic ink blot moment. Are we confronted with a challenge to overcome, or an opportunity to be grasped? Here are a few ideas about how the notion of “slowness” can be incorporated into your law firm’s business model:
- Designate a “slow room” where attorneys and staff members are encouraged to leave business matters behind, and spend a bit of downtime
- Allow attorneys and other billing staff members, credit for time spent in the “slow room”
- Require attorneys and other billing staff members to spend some minimum time away from the office (like certain bankers and others working in the financial market sector)
- Challenge attorneys and other billing staff members to calendar specific “slow” time in their day when they are required to single-task, not multi-task
- Require attorneys and other billing staff members to turn off their phones/computers for a minimum prescribed period of time, each business day
- Challenge attorneys and other billing staff members to delegate specific tasks or responsibilities to others (delegation can lead to team-building)
- Challenge attorneys and other billing staff members to introduce a “slow” ritual into their workday (reading/exercise/charitable work, or client time that is non-billable)
It’s Really About The Clients
The suggestions detailed above will no doubt strike Management Committee members as counterproductive indulgences that don’t add to the law firm’s bottom line or the profits per partner, but is that what really defined your law firm’s past success? Is the way things were done in the past, the best path going forward?
The real reason for your law firm’s success– both past and future– is the loyalty of its clients, and any steps that management might be willing to take toward making the law firm’s attorneys and other billing staff members work more “slowly”, will ultimately inure to the benefit of not only the individual partners/staff members, but more importantly, your clients.
The Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is said to have exhorted his troops and commanders “festina lente” in building and expanding the Roman empire (translated into modern English, “hasten slowly”). In other words, take care of business, but do it well. Sometimes the newer four-lane highway is the only way to go, but oftentimes, the old two-lane road is better. A successful army doesn’t outrun its supply line. You get the idea.
If your clients’ concerns are deserving of your attention, then they are deserving of your best efforts. If the practice of law is something that you believe to be of social importance or value, it is something that you should do slowly, with your full attention. At bottom, there is a very important place for the “slowness movement” in the practice of law, and Management Committee members who act upon that realization will recognize this moment in time in our profession, to be a moment of opportunity.