Is the Legal Profession Really Slow to Change? 5 Lawyers Respond

It is said that getting lawyers to change is like Herding Cats.

On December 11, LawGeex is launching The In-House Counsel’s Guide to Change Management—a free, downloadable guide revealing how top legal departments are succeeding in a period of unprecedented disruption. To ensure you get your free copy first, as soon as it lands click here.

The book includes practical advice based on dozens of interviews and real-life experiences from the world’s leading in-house lawyers, psychologists, and legal experts, in many cases revealing their secrets for the first time.

Like Herding Cats?

Dr Larry Richard

Lawyer and psychologist, Dr Larry Richard, one of the contributors to the guide, says changing lawyers is like “Herding Cats”. Raised on a diet of skepticism, fiercely independent and trained in finding risks, lawyers, he says, like proud cats, find innovation unusually hard. The guide includes a special section on the psychological effects of change. Dr Richard identifies  5 key traits required for change (leadership, loss of control, low skepticism and growth mindset) and how to help lawyers move away from instincts often diametrically opposed to these values.

In advance of the publication, we ask five leading in-house counsel, who have initiated radical change management, whether lawyers really are slow to innovate? Or is this charge overstated?

1) Vicky Lockie, formerly associate General Counsel at Pearson

Vicky Lockie

Change challenge:   Pearson underwent an overhaul of processes and technology building a major legal operations team.

Lockie says: “I do believe lawyers are slow to change. With any change, it’s very important to understand the psychology of people you are dealing with. Inherently the legal profession is conservative, lawyers have been trained to focus on detail, analyse all potential issues, they tend to seek perfection and can be risk averse.”

2) Mick Sheehy, General Counsel, Telstra 

The profession has now woken up.” Mike Sheehy, Telstra GC

Mick Sheehy

Change challenge: Telstra is a model of legal innovation, in its first push, freeing up more than 40,000 hours per year of low value, unproductive work.

Sheehy says: “The legal profession has to date resisted change more than others.  This makes it fertile ground for those looking to work differently as there is much opportunity to make change.  But it feels like the profession has now woken up and the number of lawyers talking about change and taking action to make change increases every day. This makes it exciting times to be a lawyer.”

3) Chris Newby, General Counsel at AIG EMEA and Chief Operating Officer AIG Europe

Chris Newby

Challenge: Insurance giant, AIG, has overseen major change, automating mundane legal tasks, with a view to focusing the team on more sophisticated work.

“Generally, the way lawyers work is never easy. They are quite ingrained in the way they are trained and so getting them to take a holistic view of change can be tricky. But I think you have to force this holistic view. There are better ways of working, and you need to sell the positives of it, and that there will be benefits in the longer term.”

4) Casey Flaherty, former corporate counsel, and founder of Procertas

Casey Flaherty

Change Challenge: Casey Flaherty is a leading consultant on legal operations and process improvement in law departments.

Flaherty says:The legal profession is very slow to change. But so are most industries, professions, and people. Because it is the market in which I operate, I have this (possibly distorted) sense that legal’s veneration of precedent is a true differentiator in the Status Quo Bias Olympics.

Because it is the market in which I operate, I have this (possibly distorted) sense that legal’s veneration of precedent is a true differentiator in the Status Quo Bias Olympics, Casey Flaherty

“Then I read the research on the diffusion of innovations and, once again, am reminded that legal may not be that special, in ways good or bad. Change is hard. Change is slow. But, contrary to my own personal observations and intuitions, I am not confident change is materially harder or slower in legal.”

5) Sterling Miller, General Counsel, Marketo, & author of Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel

Sterling Miller

Change Challenge: In more than 20 years of experience as General Counsel, Sterling Miller has advised and provided perspective on change management.

“I think smaller law firms and smaller in-house legal departments are far more likely to adopt new methods and new technology than their larger counterpoints.  There is a lot of innovation going on in the legal profession, it just may not be at places that get the headlines.  If you really look, you will see it.”

Ensure you get your free copy of The In-House Counsel’s Guide To Change Management as soon as it lands to understand how the most innovative legal departments are achieving lasting legal change management.


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