A Whole New Mindset For Lawyers

New MindsetLawyers are under a lot of pressure these days. Trained to revere deliberation and adhere to precedent, lawyers struggle to deal with big data and process development. Clients are demanding greater value and may eschew loyalty to relationships by shipping work to offshore, automated, or online providers. To be successful, lawyers must adopt a new mindset. At the same time they must recommit to civility and professionalism.

Explosion Of Technology Requires A New Mindset

Back in the day, lawyers could become subject matter experts and stay at the top of their game for many years—if not their entire careers. Now change is occurring at an exponential rate, information is available 24/7 to anyone with a connection to the Internet, and clients are demanding frequent if not daily updates. There is too much information available out there, changing too rapidly, for any one lawyer to consider herself the sole expert in a substantive area.

I agree with Amy Vodarek who recently wrote that trying to lead from an expert mindset puts the focus on the wrong person—ourselves. If we lead from the mindset that we are the expert, our focal point is on what we know, how we perform, and what will happen to us if we don’t know. Instead, to be successful in this data-filled world, we need to focus on the other. This will help us gain clients and will help us promote a collaborative and healthy workplace.

Shift From Gaining Knowledge To Gaining Perspectives

Lawyers spend the first part of their careers honing the skills they developed in law school: researching, analyzing, writing memoranda. Sooner or later, they shift to client development and management of their organizations. At this point, gaining and professing mastery of knowledge is not as important as gaining the respect and trust of others. Whether the focus is on gaining clients or keeping employees and co-workers happy, lawyers must learn to empathize and listen. In the abstract, one wouldn’t think that these activities are that hard, but, again, lawyers are trained to argue and present, not listen and be empathetic.

As I have written about before, research shows that lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to be thinkers (focused on objective principles and impersonal facts in decision-making) than feelers (those who emphasize personal concerns and people in decision-making). So how can our listening and empathy skills be learned?

Here are four steps to hone your listening and empathy skills:

  • Set a purposeful intention to listen, learn, and explore. When talking with another or in a meeting, resist the urge to state your views, showcase your prowess or take control of the conversation. Instead create space for the others to offer their ideas.
  • Listen to understand what they really care about. Ask questions and notice what they are saying, or not saying. Pay close attention. Resist the urge to immediately frame clients’ statements into a legal cause of action or defense.
  • Quiet your inner expert; focus on connecting. Connecting with others is the foundation of building relationships. Relationships get you clients, resources, new ideas.
  • Notice what is being revealed in you as you are listening. What assumptions or pre-judgments do you hold about the person and their message? Maintain openness.

If lawyers master the skills of listening and empathizing, they also will be able to use those additional perspectives to effectively collaborate. Unlike our business school counterparts, law students (at least of a certain vintage) have not been steeped in the culture and importance of working in teams. However, both inside and outside our organizations, we can leverage our effect and better serve our clients by collaborating with others.

Embrace Civility And Professionalism

Civility and professionalism are more important in this technology-rich milieu for three important reasons: 1) Clients are looking for problem-solving, not aggressive conflict-accentuating tactics; 2) Your reputation can be made or ruined easily; and 3) In an era where many tasks that previously were provided by attorneys are being delivered faster, cheaper and better by others, including machines, lawyers need to be grounded in principles of service.

1) Clients are looking for an answer to their problems

First, many people are under the misapprehension that civility means having good manners or playing nice and is therefore not appropriate in a setting where lawyers are advocating for their clients. Not so.

Civility generally means treating others with respect. And lawyers are required as a condition of receiving their law license, to pass character and fitness requirements that justify the trust of clients, opposing counsel and the courts, including demonstrating respect for the system.

Properly representing clients does not equate to pressing for every piece of discovery evidence regardless of the cost or relevance. In fact, corporate clients are decreasing the amount they spend on outside counsel and individual clients want their lawyers to make their problems go away as quickly and cheaply as possible.

2) Social media and on-line reviews means your reputation as a jerk can go viral

Before the Internet, evaluations of lawyers were conducted and distributed by and for lawyers and published in books yearly, listing an attorney’s achievements by name, geographic region and specialty. Now any person who has contact with an attorney can rate and comment on the lawyer’s demeanor and professionalism on websites specifically devoted to ranking lawyers or on general social media. One uncivil outburst may haunt an attorney for years, and reputations may be built or destroyed quickly.

3) Service can re-vitalize your career

What separates lawyers from online sellers of legal-related products is professionalism. The essence of professionalism is service. No other occupation has the same obligation as lawyers to serve the institutions that form the very foundation of our republic.

The Preamble to our ethical rules makes clear that in addition to providing services to their clients, lawyers also owe responsibilities to the legal system and to the public generally. With respect to the legal system, lawyers are charged with the responsibility to aid the administration of justice, to improve the law and the legal profession and to exemplify the highest ideals of the legal profession. With respect to society at large, lawyers are charged to seek reform of the law, improvement in the quality of legal services and increased access to the legal system as well as to “further the public’s confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.”

It is clear from protests that have broken out in multiple cities over the past year or two that the public’s trust in the rule of law and the justice system is broken. It is up to lawyers to educate the public and to help rebuild the lost trust.

These are lofty goals and heady responsibilities. And these are the notions that attracted me, and I suspect most lawyers, into pursuing law as a career. Service is the lifeline of our profession.

Change Is Inevitable; Professionalism Is Constant

Technology makes demands on attorneys to learn new and faster methods of communicating and working. At the same time, technology offers more opportunities to connect with people and access information and resources. Lest the work of lawyers be reduced to the 21st century equivalent of an assembly line, it is important for lawyers to hone our soft skills of listening and empathizing so we can deliver the judgment our clients seek. Lawyers who shift their mindset from thinking like a lawyer to thinking like a client will succeed in this new climate.

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Jayne Reardon
As a prior trial lawyer, Jayne leads lawyers to embrace the transformative possibilities of future law practice. As a prior disciplinary counsel, Jayne is passionate about promoting the core values of the legal profession. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Notre Dame. Jayne lives in Park Ridge, Illinois with her husband and those of her four children who are not otherwise living in college towns and beyond.
Jayne Reardon

2 thoughts on “A Whole New Mindset For Lawyers

  1. I dissent from the concept that lawyers do not listen to their prospective clients or smoke out the real problems they are facing, etc. Blame always seems to be focused on the lawyer and NOT the client. Most clients in contested matters do NOT want anything but winning! Total victory.

    Good lawyers, and that is most of us, will counsel clients on the cost of legal services (particularly hourly based) and why compromise is more often then not the best course of action for all concerned. Yet, clients tend to forget the good advice they get and after dwelling on the matter, start to put nasty and wrongful remarks in the Internet-based so-called “services” that exist that allow former clients to VENT their beliefs.

    And how can LegalZOOM provide one of your speakers on this topic?! If one examines the intended public offering information provided by Legal ZOOM (please see the SEC web site for confirmation), legalZOOM is not a lawfirm! True? Of course it is true and that is their own words in telling people the downsides of investing in them (Last I heard they got $200,000,000.00 of venture capital and so withdrew their intent, at present, of going public.)

    It is only recently that the ABA started to talk about the legal Profession as a business. Our model was Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird and other TV shows that showed the value of lawyers.

    And, why is it that some states in the United States have taken LegalZOOM to task, but more states have not? If LegalZoom says it is not a law firm, but having them prepare legal documents based on a questionnaire from a paying public may be or is the practice of law, why have the bar associations and enforcement facilities NOT taken after them?

    And, talk about Bar Associations, and here I can tell you many, many examples of how bar associations looked at disdain on lawyers, like myself, who have been fighting for decades to have the bar associations provide true leadership and provide strong recommendations and training to lawyers who are members. “Standards” are still needed, but do bar associations make recommendations? And, how long should it have taken for bar associations to give more then “lip service” to technology. I still remember lawyers who did not know me ask if I was really a lawyer, if I actually typed on a keyboard and/or got on my Electronic Bulletin Board System (first one of its kind hosted by a lawyer in the 1980s)…..? Convinced that lawyers do not type! That is what secretaries are for.

    And, is it possible that the rules of professional conduct go much, much too far in trying to protect the public? I can cite examples here too, if one gets the opportunity to do so.

    I would hope that this program will allow a good measure of dissent. In my view, one of the very few “safe” areas for lawyers to be involved with is TRIAL WORK! That is, until Robots do better then a human being, which I doubt will not happen for a few years.

    The FACT IS that clients most often have unreasonable expectations, and when THEIR expectations are not met, they complain to the disciplinary groups or post malicious and defamatory information on “rating” Internet resources.

    My concern with the speakers and programs is that I see nothing about dissent! I doubt Atticus Finch would have ever made it to his next client if he had to live up to the alleged standards that have been created for us.

    Sorry to be so blunt, and I admit that I have been in practice in Illinois since 1959 and therefore knew what it was like when lawyers WERE ACTUALLY civil to each other and judges were teachers and helpers rather then something else, and when lawyers could argue and fight like wildcats before a Judge or Jury, but could be best of friends outside the matter at hand. (I had this happen with me when my very good friend (Jerry Torshen, now deceased) and I did battle in the Chancery division in what he and I thought would be a three day, non-jury trial….after three weeks, the Judge asked us both, at the beginning of week four, how much of the case had been covered and how long to go. Jerry and I both agreed that we were about half-way done and three more weeks would probably be necessary to finish the trial. Of course, at that point, the Judge got very pro-active and we ended up settling the matter. BUT, whereas I knew of Mr. Torshen’s history and reputation and although we never even met before the trial, we became VERY, VERY good friends and remained so until his death.

    Again, I hope there is room for dissent, and I would strongly recommend that “old timers” like me who remember a much gentler and kinder legal PROFESSION, worked extremely well, and that is even before there were bodies that could take away your license, after years and years of making ready and doing GREAT work because of someone, some former client, who just did not get all they KNOW (not think, but KNOW) they deserved! And of course, without any concern about the hours of time to be devoted to a case.

    And where have the bar ass

  2. WHY ARE YOU MODERATING? Besides creating possible risks to your prganization, does this reservation of rights mean that if the group involved does not agree with me or thinks I come on a bit too strong, that you will not post my remarks?

    I am, frankly, amazed that you moderate. I am amazed that one must engage in multiple clicks of the mouse to get the comments, and that you have so few comments as of April 2, 2016.

    There is other technology that can and will and should provide many non-attorneys with all the information they need in dealing with an attorney and holding down the costs. Want an example? Three members of a corporation that want to have a buy and sell agreement (and it does not matter when this idea pops up), want the lawyer to draft the agreement. NOW, this is not a simple document to draw up and since I have done many of them, I know whereof I speak. If the client really, REALLY wants to do this, the first thing I do is refer them to NOLO Press (an organization that in its founding by two lawyers were overtly critical and hateful of the legal profession) and direct and require that they purchase the book NOLO sells on this topic and even answer the questionnaire provided with the software version of the book and do a DRAFT agreement and read it. The text of the book will tell them the definition of certain words and will even point them to an attorney when they come to a given point, like one of the “partners” becomes sick or disabled” or what triggers a buy-out agreement and different methods of valuation.”

    So, are there areas where start up companies, Ma and Pa or family owned businesses or whatever want a buy and sell? To be sure. BUT, can they afford same? They could if the lawyers know enough about what is out there and where to direct clients to, but bar associations, although doing better in recent years, SAT on their rear ends and did nothing to assist those of us in the forefront of law office automaton and technology.

    Part of the problem is that our regulatory and/or bar association groups do not have time or look very friendly on some of us with strong opinions.

    Having NOW REVIEWED my two offerings here, will I be given admittance this week to the seminar? I promise to try, very hard, to be civil, fair, balanced and reasonable, but that should be a two-way street.

    And, OH YES, care to talk about lawyer advertising?

    Paul Bernstein, lawyer since 1959 and mostly, these days, fighting for affordable, habitable housing and tenants’ rights in Chicago.

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