It’s not what you use; it’s the way that you use it?

January 9, 2005

If you speak to any General Counsel working in-house today or any senior partner in a law firm, two recurring themes will emerge that concern them greatly:

? The performance bar is raised year on year. More and more is expected and there is an increasing burden of tasks and activities to manage where the risk of failure is more acute than ever before; yet very many lawyers are working with a static, even reducing, resource and are asked to perform near miracles at a lower cost.

? The increasing sophistication of deals and the need to complete them on time and on budget has been a feature of legal service for some time, but the plethora of new communication tools has created unparalleled access (internally and externally) and has accelerated the speed at which information is transferred. However, in this environment speed and quality are not synonymous!

These two issues are then linked to a third point of concern and contention.

The sheer volume of communication (such as voicemail, email, cell phones, blackberries etc etc etc) demands that more and more of our time is given to manage low level, low risk activity.

For example, have you ever overheard senior managers on their cell phones have conversations like these?

?Hello, yes, I am now on the train? and I am about to go into a tunnel?

?Can you please tell Mike that I will be two minutes late? No, on second thoughts, I?ll call you again nearer the time.?

?I agree that we agreed you Didn’t need to contact me again but you should have copied me in anyway so I knew you had done it.?

Can you imagine this happening millions, billions, trillions of times a day? Can you imagine what this costs? Can you imagine paying good wages for people to do this?

The explosion of communication, the exponential growth in email traffic and our 24/7 culture, forces busy people to run around in decreasing circles of meaningless accessibility at the very time when to actually deliver higher performance, more effectively, more efficiently and more cheaply, they need to be able to pause for thought.

Where is the time to innovate? Where is the time to think strategically? Where is the space to build meaningful relationships that will sustain value for the longer term? Where is the time for personal development, for mentoring, for sharing best practice?

Our fast food culture has brought upon us a generation of sugar junkies needing regular quick fixes of plastic food that is, admittedly, brilliantly marketed and packaged, but is ultimately unsatisfying.

We are now in danger of serving our clients ?fast law?? glossy, slick, quick? commoditised, digitalised and processed but leaving the client equally unsatisfied.

In this context it will also leave the lawyers unsatisfied too.

The sadness in all of this is that unless the cycle is broken, talented, creative and well meaning people with great integrity, are doomed to be frustrated, less valued than they should be by their colleagues and clients? and probably burnt out.

It is easy to make emotive points in an article but this is actually a fundamental weakness in the way we organise legal services.

Society demands much of those who practice law and who serve our justice system.

Integrity and trustworthiness are key characteristics that if ever tarnished will bring the whole system into disrepute. Call me old fashioned but we train our lawyers to be computer literate (and rightly so), to know an Adobe reader from a web browser; but we also need them to believe that their chosen career is a vocation – a profession with an ethical code that sets them apart.

It?s not just about doing the deal; it?s about doing the deal the right way. And if that sounds terribly pompous, let me frame the point in another more grounded way?

Clients do not value a lawyer?s legal expertise. It is too intangible, too remote from their understanding. What makes one warranty clause more effective than another is important for the lawyers to know, but will never be a concern or a point of appreciation by a client.

No, clients value the quality of their relationship with their lawyer.

Client?s value empathy, understanding, commitment, promises fulfilled. These are the qualities that build trust and confidence. And if the foundations are strongly laid the relationship will withstand much that can be thrown at it.

If the foundations are made of sand? then, at the first sign of trouble, the client has nothing to judge value, except maybe speed or cost? and the next lawyer who claims they can work faster and cheaper will get the job.

The point is this?

Blackberries and 3G cell phones and all the gizmos and gadgets yet to come (that none of us will be able to live without when they arrive – except that we can live without them today!), should be seen as tools in the hands of craftsmen.

They are valuable and important and wonderfully exciting to use, but only if the craftsman knows what is really important? only if their training and experience has equipped them with the emotional intelligence to use their tools well.

I am not a Luddite? my business has been built on the benefits of technology and would die were it not for email; but we must never lose sight of the values that create trust in our work.

We must never expect technology to be an expedient replacement for integrity, for relationship management skills, for communication skills and for our ability to define our clients? best interests? and then to serve their best interests as only a true profession should.

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