2/28/12

Sympathy For The Attorney


At work I happily drink from the single cup coffee machine in the pantry, but that’s not coffee so much as a speedy caffeine delivery mechanism. On the weekends, when I have time to make coffee, I Make Coffee.  I put the kettle on to boil, then I pour a half a cup or so – I never measure – of whole roasted beans into my coffee mill, like the one in the picture to the right.  I turn on the radio to listen to the weekend news and begin to grind my coffee by hand.  The mill slowly crushes the beans which slide down the sides of the cup and fill the jar below.  If I’ve timed it right, I finish grinding the beans just as the water in the kettle comes to a boil.  I pour the contents of the mill jar into my gold filter and place the drip filter holder on my favorite coffee mug.  I slowly pour the hot, but no longer boiling!, water over the grounds making sure to maintain the appropriate level of water at all times.  If I do all of this just right, I end up with a cup of my own personal brand of sludge that fully caffeinates and satisfies.

This process is slow.  This process is labor intensive.  And I love it!  Yes, it marks me as a full-fledged coffee snob.  And most other people don’t even like my coffee, which makes it all the better.  You can argue until you are blue in the face that this ritual is a waste of time, that I would be much more productive if I threw a couple of scoops of store ground coffee into an automatic drip maker and set the timer to wake me up on Saturday morning.  And while intellectually I understand the words you are saying, I can’t imagine ever giving up my mill and drip filter.  Because it’s not really about the coffee, it’s about the process.  The addiction is to the anticipation of the reward as much as it is to the reward itself. 

I bring this up because in IT we often make excuses for why attorneys are so averse to changing their process.  “They’re stodgy and set in their ways.”  “They’re luddites who would rather do it the long way, than use the more productive technology.”  “They just don’t want to learn anything new.”  There are undoubtedly attorneys who fit those descriptions, but I wonder if we’ve been thinking about it the wrong way around.  It’s not that they’re stuck in their habits, it’s that they really like the way they do things.  And I don’t just mean, they’re comfortable doing it the way they always have, but maybe they actually derive pleasure from the process of practicing law.  When I waltz in with a great new product that I think will make their life so much easier, they hear “I’m going to destroy your process” and they react just as I would if you said, “I’m giving you a brand new single cup coffee machine for home!”  I don’t want a push button solution for my Saturday morning coffee, but a more efficient hand mill, a better quality filter, or a high performance kettle might be a welcome addition to my current process, making me more efficient without destroying the ritual that I have evolved over years of practice.

Maybe what I’m suggesting is just a semantically different way of looking at the issue.  And maybe all attorneys got their JDs to please their overbearing mothers, actually loathe the practice of law, and secretly long to be baristas.  But as I’ve seen one attorney after another reject terrific new products that I feel would greatly enhance their practice with minimal disruption to their process, I reflect on my Saturday morning coffee ritual.  What seems a “minimal disruption” to someone who doesn’t fully understand my process, might be an unconscionable alteration of the ritual to me.

On the other hand, if I go into a coffee shop and it takes them 25 minutes to get me a cup of coffee, and they charge me $50 because their process was labor intensive.  I don’t care how good the coffee is, I will probably not return to that store anytime soon.

Just thinking out loud.

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6 comments:

Doug Cornelius said...

We all have issues with change. I don't think you should conclude that lawyers are any more adverse to change than the general population. I’ve heard this complaint for years from legal IT. But it’s their job to embrace technology and see the value in changes. Big and small.

What gets lost is the value proposition to lawyers. Most people, lawyers included, don’t want to go through the hassle of changing unless it’s something they are passionate about. Otherwise the change has to be a significantly better way of doing things.

I’m not just talking 50% better. I’m talking nine times better.
(some academic research for you: http://andrewmcafee.org/2006/09/the_9x_email_problem/ )

Change means having to spend time learning the new technology’s interface, how to use it, and rewiring their physical and mental processes to use the technology. That’s a commitment of time and energy.

The new technology needs to reward that commitment many times over in productivity gain and value to the attorney.

The next time you are rolling out that shiny new tool, make sure you’re presenting that value proposition. A little better is not enough.

Deborah McMurray said...

I think a reason lawyers are resistant to change - whether introduced by IT or marketing - is because we haven't done a compelling job of communicating at their level. Our passion for the new process or technology falls on deaf ears, not because they are universally change-averse, but because our sales pitch is OUR sales pitch. We've had months to embrace the new idea, we understand its efficiencies, we understand how it streamlines getting from point A to point Z. By the time we introduce the idea to the lawyers, we are so far down the trail that it's hard for us to look in the rear-view mirror at where we started - to remember our own initial questions and resistance.

We are also often selling from our point-of-view, rather than theirs. Using the coffee example, Ryan said a new filter would be welcome, but not a plug-in machine that someone buys from Target.

If we can address the underlying needs the lawyers have in practicing law and managing their client relationships, I'm confident we can introduce efficiencies that they'll embrace. Start from their point-of-view.

Ryan McClead said...

I completely agree with both of these comments. Doug is right that Lawyers are not alone in disliking change. Most people rail against change. Many people in IT are struggling with the Consumerization and Cloud Computing, among other current pressing issues. And Deborah is right that the best solution is to put ourselves in their shoes and see our "solutions" from their point of view. Not always easy to do, but necessary. It means that IT needs to have a better understanding of the legal process. (Maybe a future post?)

I highly recommend the Andrew McAfee link that Doug pointed to as well. Very good points.

Thanks for the comments.
Ryan

Anne Stuart said...

For most people, change is a really scary concept to grasp. In law, however, it does not necessarily mean that if a lawyer does not embrace change then he or she becomes inefficient in what he or she does. Thanks for providing some perspective in this blog post.

Shy Alter said...

Brilliant. It's a subtle concept but very powerful. We all have rituals, some of which are not perfectly efficient, but have a certain inherent value worth preserving.

This complicates things for those of us designing new processes and systems facing lawyers - but it's a point worth keeping in mind.
Thank you.

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