Legaltech – The Power of a Crisis: Remaking the Habits of Lawyers

[Disclaimer: I am attending Legaltech thanks to a free blogger’s pass, so read skeptically. All opinions are my own because nobody else would want them anyway.] [Further disclaimer: Live blogging. Errors, omissions, and snarky comments are my own.]

Day Three Keynote General Session Presentation: The Power of a Crisis: Remaking the Habits of Lawyers

The legal industry is at a crossroads. Some would call it a crisis, and many would attribute it to a series of habits developed over many years – like sticking with the billable hour, being slow to adopt new technologies, and continuing to buy legal services the old same way. In these tough economic times corporate clients are aggressively cutting costs and legal budgets are under the microscope in a way they never have been before. How can the legal industry – notoriously resistant to change – use the science of habit formation to change their ways and, ultimately, serve their clients better? Join us for a fascinating look at the neurology of habits – how they are created, reinforced, and controlled – and gain insight into how changing a few habits can transform an industry.

Speaker: Charles Duhigg,
Author, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business;
Investigative Reporter, The New York Times

Look at two companies that have gone through significant changes: Alcoa and Starbucks.

Alcoa’s new CEO Paul O’Neill recognized that the aluminum industry was declining. He also recognized that producing aluminum was extremely dangerous to workers. He decided to focus not on productivity, but on developing habits around worker safety. Whenever an injury occurred, a factory boss had to write a lengthy report within 24 hours. What happened was that all the communication habits within Alcoa shifted. Result: revenues and profits exploded. “A crisis spilled into a habit of excellence.”

Does the legal industry face an “Alcoa moment”?

Case 2: Starbucks. We think of it as a company that sells coffee; it’s really a company that sells customer service. You can’t make people pay for customer service, but you can get them to pay for coffee. At the height of its expansion, Starbucks was hiring 1700 people per week–mostly high schoolers and recent high school grads. Problem: how to get kids to not act crazy? (NY TV news showed the story of a customer who complained because the employee wrote “Bitch,” instead of her name, on the coffee cup. Say goodbye to customer goodwill.) Problem, rephrased: how to get employees to develop willpower to provide good customer service. Consider the marshmallow study. Long story short, Starbucks revised their training manual to teach habits of willpower.

What does this mean for lawyers and law firms? During periods of crisis is when it’s easiest for individuals to change habits. So go out and do that. [That’s where the talk ends.]


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