Lawyers: The ‘Hedgehog Syndrome’

I was tempted to have a play with a photo to see if I could superimpose a lawyer’s head (my own!) on to a hedgehog, but I was afraid that I might, unwittingly, besmirch the good name of the hedgehog.

The analogy is (simply) this: Lawyers adopt hedgehog tactics whenever they are asked to do something:

  1. That doesn’t involve a ROI of their time;
  2. Means that they won’t be able to record green (chargeable) time;
  3. Disrupts their day, anymore than usual;
  4. Causes discomfort from the usual *stuff* that they are involved with;
  5. Involves them having to help their collegeaue in another department;
  6. Involves them having to meet people who may not be potential clients or referrers;
  7. Spending time learning something new that on first blush may have little or no relevance to their practice area (e.g. how technology works or might make their jobs easier).

Now I know these are crass generalisations and there will be exceptions but, by and large, lawyers are creatures of habit and the moment that they are asked (or told!) to deviate from the status quo, the majority of them dive into themselves. In some cases this can last for quite a few days and sometimes weeks …

Communication is key.

And I don’t just mean the process of disseminating the bad news but rather a stage before that where the management or partners have clearly set out the objectives for the firm so that the task is being seen as part of the larger picture.

Take time recording (res ipsa loquitor).

Yes, all lawyers know they have to do it, but there is a real dichotomy where firms want you to bill 6+ hours per day but at the same time make room for:

  • Networking;
  • Business development;
  • Speaking to clients to give ‘free’ advice;
  • Attending meetings for your and/or other departments;
  • Closing files and getting WIP written off (grr…); and
  • Supervising others.

Is it any wonder that having played at being Super[wo]man, the lawyer screeches to a halt and says:

“I can’t take it any more. I get no recognition for this stuff, yet, still, you are asking me to record 6.5 hours. Even when I do record this as non-chargeable I get zero recognition.”

And so the Hedgehog Syndrome starts.

The answer?

Firms need to be much more thoughtful about the role and responsibilities of their partners, fee earners and support staff. They need to tie in their organizational structure with:

  • The firm’s values;
  • The strategic objective for the department;
  • The organizational structure;
  • The management set up;
  • The business development strategy; and
  • The systems underpinning all of this.

Now at this stage I would wager that a lot of people will be saying:

“Are you serious.”

or

“We are drowning under bureaucracy. We don’t need any more blasted forms or strategy documents to read.”

Meaning: they have a job description (of sorts) but as to the rest of the stuff, it seems to be: (i) created without a purpose; or (ii) mostly made up; (iii) or created on the hoof.

I am sure there will be some firms out there who have systemised their processes but very few.

Without a clearly defined organisational strategy it will be very difficult to try and tie all this additional work into a strategy and make sense of it. Even if firms did not feel compelled to start preparing yet further documents, more work has to be done on setting the scene and keeping everyone on board.

Again, communication is key.

There is simply not enough one-to-one dialogue going on, and very often it is only when the brakes are applied that all the problems come to a head.

If you want your people to start thinking and acting like you (being the person in charge or with overall responsibility) then you need to understand the motivation for going beyond the norm, putting in the extra effort and not entering into an experiment every few months.

Without a clear direction and set of values it is likely that the Hedgehog Syndrome will continue unabated for many years to come.

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