Six personality reasons why change may be particularly difficult in legal departments

If you are a general counsel frustrated by how hard it is to change ways of working in your department, perhaps it is some solace to understand why. From my experience as a consultant to legal departments and therefore a purported catalyst for change, I list six personality-based obstructions to doing things differently.

Solitary: Lawyers often work alone, not on teams, so they find it harder to pull all the oars at the same time, let alone change the stroke (See my post of April 5, 2009: teamwork and collaboration internally with 16 references.).

Ambitious: Often lawyers are competitive, which means they may oppose changes as an alteration of power or responsibility not to their liking. Result: heels dig in (See my post of Oct. 2, 2008: competitiveness with 29 references.).

Argumentative: Lawyers are intellectually combative. They don’t mind arguing about whether a proposed change makes sense or not. In truth, they enjoy the thrust and parry that extends decision-making! Even if they lose and a shift is rammed through, they can fall back on passive aggressive behavior (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006: passive-aggressive reactions.).

Cautious: Risk aversion slows down many lawyers. Many posts have discussed this style (See my post of Aug. 24, 2008: lawyers and risk averse behavior with 11 references.).

Craftsman: Professionalism gets in the way, in the sense that lawyers view themselves as craftspeople, not as mechanics or cogs in processes. Streamlining or improvement challenges their cherished autonomy and pursuit of excellence heedless of cost (See my post of Oct. 7, 2009: conflict between professional values and corporate values.).

Lemmings: Precedent strongly influences lawyers. “Who else has done this?”, they ask. It’s hard to change, be creative, and go off-road if you favor the path well-trodden by others.

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