THE keystone habit for law firms

von Marion Ehmann

When talking to lawyers and law firms, I often hear ”We understand The New Normal and know that we need to change our way of working, but where on earth should we begin??”

Charles Duhigg´s very informative and enjoyable book The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change offers some advice: he recommends organisations to identify and focus on keystone habits, i.e. habits that “matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives”. Keystone habits have the power to move and remodel other habits because they start a transforming process, a chain reaction.

In my view, doing post-matter evaluations is THE keystone habit for law firms. Those evaluations will remake other patterns such as focussing more on the clients´ needs, driving professional and personal development of employees and quality focus, as well as making the handling of matters and the delivery of legal advice more effective.

How do we start implementing post-matter evaluations? Let´s start by asking us, after each(!) matter, three simple and straightforward questions:

What went well? How can we do this better? How did the actual costs of this matter compare to the budget or the bill?

The fact that the questions are only a few and rather simple is deliberate, because keystone habits create small and early wins. At first glance, this may seem counter-intuitive for lawyers whose DNA includes a strong preference for perfection. Striving for perfection is part of our training and, at least in some parts of our work as legal advisors, is required behaviour. However, “perfect is the enemy of good” (Voltaire) and striving for perfection is downright counter-productive when it comes to making necessary adaptations to a changing and complex environment. Adaptation, by definition, works by way of experimenting and adjusting ...

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