Legal KM folks are innovators. They’re always looking for new ways to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Always trying to make the practice of law more efficient.
Innovation, by definition, is about newness. “The introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device,” according to dictionary.com. New can be good or it can be bad. Either way, it will meet resistance. Most people tend to dislike change – the more drastic, the more resistance. Lawyers, and those others who work in the legal field, are not shy about expressing their aversion to change.
Remember when your firm announced that it was switching from DOS-based WordPerfect 5.1 to the new-fangled Windows-based WYSIWYG Microsoft Word? Remember “reveal codes?” Some legal secretaries still want to go back to those good old days, but most are now pretty happy with the change.
My mother didn’t need a microwave oven in the late 1970s, — or more accurately, she didn’t know she needed one. Today, estimates claim that 95% of households have one. There’s a reason for it. It’s not the only way to cook food and boil water and pop popcorn, but it’s pretty efficient.
The same goes for my iPod. Aside from being super cool, it is a great device that makes it easy to listen to music. I could carry around my old Sony Walkman and a bunch of cassette tapes, but, well you get the picture.
So, why do lawyers, in particular, hate change? I’ve experienced this, but I’m not alone. There are several reasons, and this article mentions some. A lot has to do with focus and familiarity.
Lawyers work long, hard hours. They write briefs, try cases, do deals, etc. Few, however, focus on the business of law or ways to make the practice of law better. If they work at firms, then they assume that there are others that deal with that.
Lawyers, like most people, also tend to do what’s familiar. We like what we like. We fear things that are different. Even if something is better and more efficient, we find ways to avoid it.
That’s where the KM folks come in. We don’t focus on what lawyers focus on. We focus on making it easier for them to focus on what they need to focus on. We are also more comfortable with change, so we need to make it as painless as possible for them. Say what you will about lawyers, but they tend to be a reasonable bunch. Once you get them past the focus and familiarity challenges, they are usually receptive (and sometimes even appreciative). In the end, most of the time they’ll ask you, “Why haven’t we been doing it this way all along?” And that’s just what you want.
So, why innovate?
Or should I avoid the “i word” and say, “Why introduce some new method or idea?”? Well, it’s not for innovation’s sake. It’s not for the sake of being cutting (or bleeding) edge. It’s to help make things better, easier, and more efficient.
My mom never asked for a microwave oven, but she did plead for more time to do things other than slave over a hot stove. Your lawyers may never ask you for a work product retrieval system, an enterprise search engine, blogs, or wikis. But they will ask you for a better and faster way to find the firm’s documents and other information. They will ask for a better way to communicate with members of their practice groups and clients. In short, they’ll ask you to innovate — just not in so many words.
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