Using the Power of Personality to Drive Law Firm Change (part 2)

Posted on November 17, 2020 by Carla Landry

Do lawyers have the characteristics to support change? Conventional wisdom tells us they may resist movement away from the status quo. But, then, change is a challenge for most people. 

In part 1 of this article, we began our discussion of lawyer personalities, specifically autonomy and skepticism. It turns out that lawyers as a group share a number of personality traits in common. We don’t assign judgment to these traits: Any trait, whether good or not, can be problematic when carried to extremes. Rather, we seek to use the knowledge that we have gained over the years. Embedded in this knowledge of how lawyers are generally wired is a treasure trove of information on motivating people and building the buy-in for change. 

In this article, we’ll explore how two additional personality traits can help lawyers succeed, despite their reluctance to change initiatives. Specifically, these traits are urgency and abstract reasoning.

Lawyers Have a High Sense of Urgency

As mentioned, our friend and colleague, Dr. Larry Richard, has identified many personality traits that lawyers have in common. These important data inform much of our approach to change. Urgency, as a personality trait, is the strong desire to resolve issues. That’s great news, right? After all, one of the basic tenets of change management is the need to create a sense of urgency. Urgency is the oil that moves the machinery of change initiatives. It prods people from things-are-fine complacency to get-’er-done crusaders for the cause. 

So, how does urgency manifest in the legal environment? Admittedly, it can include overly-aggressive behavior and a low threshold for frustration. When lawyers come across as impatient, they may be unwittingly exhibiting the dark side of the sense of urgency. Yet, urgency, when correctly channeled, can be quite positive. After all, absent a sense of urgency, nothing happens. People with a high sense of urgency have an inherent need to rack up the maximum number of accomplishments in minimal time. They get stuff done. 

However, this doesn’t mean that the things that get done are optimized. Urgent lawyers are not inclined to look at the process. After all, that would require taking time away from the actual doing. Urgent people, however, are predisposed to want to use efficient processes. Once you channel this urgency into your initiative, you can sit back and watch change happen.

In order to do this, though, you’ll need to keep in mind the following:

  • Build your change initiative with plenty of milestones that signal progress and satisfy the need to accomplish.
  • Show urgent lawyers how the proposed change will help them get what they want... faster and better, leading to happier clients.
  • Reflect an attitude of urgency back at them in your speech, your actions, and even in your body language.
  • Go into overdrive to remove the obstacles to their success.
  • Trumpet successes and outline their achievements at every opportunity. 

Lawyers Exhibit High Levels of Abstract Reasoning

Lawyers typically also have in abundance, another useful personality trait, abstract reasoning. Abstract reasoning includes the ability to analyze disparate bits of information, finding patterns and relationships that facilitate the solving of complex problems. Lawyers who are highest in this trait can be a huge asset to your practice group. They bring strong problem-solving abilities, and they can help you think more creatively about solutions. 

Abstract reasoners can play the role of devil’s advocate to perfection. Of course, you already know that such advocacy is often punctuated by the need to question everything. However, you can put this creative energy to good use by charging your abstract reasoners with finding answers for the thought-provoking questions they raise. This not only builds engagement, but it also increases advocacy within the practice group. 

Remember that abstract reasoners will not find exciting the step-by-step systems that can be the outcome of a process improvement effort. But also remember that as the once time-sucking routine work becomes increasingly efficient, creative lawyers are afforded more opportunities to do what they do best: practice law. 

What will you do to combine what you know about lawyer personalities and the individual practitioners in your firm to put together strategies that resonate with your group? Join us as we close out this series where we started…addressing all the noise about ALSPs and process.


About the Author:

Carla Landry is a Principal with LawVision where she coaches legal teams on implementing legal project management and legal process improvement techniques into their matters.  She leads the LawVision legal process improvement practice.  Carla has spent over 25 years working in the legal industry, focused on helping lawyers manage their matters effectively and efficiently to enhance client relationships and improve financial performance.  She was an Adjunct Faculty at the George Washington University teaching Economics and Profitability of Law Firms as part of a master’s program in law firm management and is an Advisory Board Member of the Legal Project Management Institute.  In addition, Carla co-created the first legal project management certification program and launched the first online eLearning courses in legal project management (LPM LaunchPad Certification and LPMAware). She also developed two online e-learning courses for the Practising Law Institute (PLI), including a Telly Award-winning one on process improvement and another on law firm profitability.  Click here to read more or connect with her on LinkedIn.



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