Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Truth Behind Lawyer Personalities and KM Adoption

These are my notes from an interesting presentation by KM guru (now SNR Denton US CIO) Sally Gonzalez.

Knowledge management in law firms should be easy. The law is a knowledge-intensive industry, and lawyers must be doing some knowledge management every day.  Yet we struggle with km adoption and talk of "pushing the rock up the hill" is common.

Much of what we struggle with may have to do with the personalities of the people we work with.  These personalities won't change, so we need creative ways to deal with these personalities. (I've blogged about Mark Sirkin's presentation on lawyer personalities on the ILTA KM blog).

How will these barriers manifest themselves as KM moves into new areas of effort such as fee arrangements, process improvements, and project management?

Early KM was very inward-focused.  It was intended to help lawyers be more productive earlier in the career, be better technical lawyers.  In the UK risk mitigation was a major expressed concern.  In the US efficiency was more prominent.  Early KM also integrated with professional development, through encouraging training or through mining training materials.  Incidentally some of the KM material was shared with clients.

We struggled with getting lawyers to share know-how, contributing content, getting agreement on standards, forms, precedents.   We also struggled with getting lawyers to spend time on KM.  Lastly some people did not use KM resources very often when they were developed.

We thought that barriers included knowledge hoarding, the billable hour, client willingness to pay for firms to reinvent the wheel, and no funding for dedicated practice support lawyers.

More subtly, barriers included unwillingness to expose less than perfect materials.  challenges around achieving consensus, and fear of exhibiting less than perfect knowledge.

What is unique about lawyer personalities?

She worked with several Hildebrandt consultants who were trained psychologists.  They distributed "Caliper" profiles to 4500 lawyers and compared to more 2 million college-educated subjects.

Lawyers vary from the norm in eight areas.

Lawyers prize autonomy at a score of 89 out of 100 compared to the general public at 50. They also prize skepticism (90 / 100).  This makes them not trust other's work.  (It also makes them good lawyers.)  They are very good at abstract reasoning (89/100).  Their resilience (sensitivity to criticism) is much lower (30/100).   Urgency is at 71/100.  This leads to impatience and a need to get things done.  Lawyers are at 12/100 in sociability, leading to challenges in building relationships with clients, mentoring, or other such activities.

Given those traits, what really works?

In early KM work,  a few approaches worked pretty well.

1.  Know-how by committees, or by highly respected sources.  Committees provide a chance for people to express opinions and validate their autonomy.
2.  Current awareness also has to come from an authoritative source
3.  PSLs who are highly respected can also provide acceptable updates and information.
4.  Submission of "know-how" -level content by others has worked.
5.  Promoting "good enough" precedents worked better.

Rainmakers and firm leadership are typically higher in resilience than other lawyers.  Firms might consider spotting future rainmakers and leaders through tests of this attribute and avoid driving them out early.

There are many challenges to building a team of lawyers, which is what you need project management and process improvement.  Lawyers are skeptical, autonomous, and antisocial.  The compensation system does not reward teamwork, and their higher tolerance of adversity keeps them from fully forming effective groups.

Lawyers' personalities do not make them natural project managers.  

Raising self-awareness is one way to mitigate the impact of negative lawyer personality traits.

Lawyers with more sympathy and sociability end up doing mentoring and so forth, and may end up leaving the firm because of lower hours.

We should measure and reward positive personality traits.

Personality traits inform the constituency that we are dealing with.  Attorneys want to talk to attorneys.

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