“We’ve Always Done it That Way”


just how we do it

Lawyers are trained to look to the past.

We consider precedents as the fundamental basis for our legal decisions – facts, matters and circumstances on which decisions before have been made.

We review legislation to advise our clients – documents prepared over a span of time to try and capture the ideals of a society… or at least the ones that there were at the time the sections were first considered.

We don’t participate in a mentoring program because the last time we did that, it didn’t work very well.

Are we Stuck in the Past?

To me, it’s fairly clear that we are, as a profession, stuck in the past. Everything we do is based on considerations that took place years, if not decades, ago.

Sure, there are a few nimble firms and individuals around who don’t seem to be quite as stoic in their decision making, but by and large the profession is operating within a framework that was created decades, or sometimes centuries, ago.

How About Some Specifics

Sure thing.  How about these areas where law firms do “what’s always been done” despite the fact that it’s demonstrably a terrible way to do things.

  1. Annual reviews – the annual review process is an antiquated and largely ineffective management system.  It has basically no impact on employee satisfaction or improvement, and serves only to waste a lot of time
  2. Social media use – this, of course, is a newer element but the reason that firms are laggards in the area of social media is because they “got where they are” without it, and as a result most firms considered the advent of social media to be a new age fad that couldn’t possibly achieve anything for their business. Ironically, now firms are (badly) attempting to use social media more, they are also not seeing the results due to the greater saturation of the medium (and, sometimes, because of their incompetence at the field).  Beyond that, many firms still lock off social media sites from their users.
  3. Firm branding taking precedence over personal branding – I always find this one odd, since the majority of firms at some point relied entirely upon the individual contents, network and pull of a particular person or group of people.  Then they turned it into a brand, spent lots of money on the right colours, and that got lost.  As a result, individual lawyers have very little voice except for that which they grab for themselves.  Why?  Because that’s how it’s always been done.
  4. Generous marketing – despite the amazing trend towards free information, many firms are still paranoid about giving away content, information or “secrets” that might actually help people.  The “thank you economy” (h/t Gary Vaynerchuck) hasn’t yet made its way into law firm marketing, it seems.

That’s just a few, but you get the general idea.  Basically – firms are the slowest adopters around there.

What’s the Answer for You?

Of course, it wouldn’t be very helpful just to identify a problem that you can’t possibly do anything about.

After all, you’re probably not the marketing manager for your law firm.  You probably aren’t the managing partner.  You probably can’t influence the policies.

So what can you do?

The answer lies in your personal endeavours.

If you have decided to avoid the “hope method” then you can take control of any number of these elements yourself, and start to build your expertise.  In the process, of course, you will try not to be fired, but a certain amount of of disruption can go a long way.

What should you NOT do?  Don’t complain.  It’s a waste of time and is largely ineffective and actually creating change.

Instead, “be the change you want to see” – if you want your firm to adopt a more sophisticated social strategy, then implement one yourself – then show them the benefits.  If you think lawyers should have premium LinkedIn to access for themselves, then get it for yourself and have a targetted system for getting work.

Results will speak much louder than theories.

So my question for you today – what’s an area that you want to progress in?  What are you going to work on to develop your career?  If this year is just looking like a repeat of last year – then you’re going nowhere.  It’s time to step up!

Happy Lawyering!

  • As a former lawyer, there’s a sense of me empathising with this post but, then again, another part of me, not the contrarian, would simply make the point that if ‘it’s’ working, i.e. the profit is still rolling on in, why would you want to change the modus operandi collectively or on an individual basis?

    My biggest concern though is the number of lawyers who pay the price in the end for allowing themselves to wear a series of faux masks just to fit in. All this does is inspire cynicism and a mentality of it’s not broke…


    • Hey there Julian and you make a good point. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is, put another way, the argument against “change for the sake of change”. Certainly unnecessary change is something I am against. But where the barriers come from a desire to stick with the old approach because it’s what we know, then we end up in a situation where we’re not looking forward enough as business people. If Mark Zuckerberg has used the “it ain’t broke” philosophy, then the world would be very different today. We need to look to the future as well as solidify on the past 🙂

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