Full disclosure: this blog post is inspired by a friendship with fellow Michigan Law '88 grad, David Rowland. At a reunion brunch in Ann Arbor many years ago, David was the first lawyer I ever heard describe the satisfaction and rewards of really getting to know his clients' business and needs. David is the managing partner of the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw, where devotion to the principles of Lean Six Sigma process improvement gave rise to SeyfarthLean®, the firm's proprietary client service model.
Here's an interview with four Seyfarth Shaw leaders that's worth a read for several reasons. If you're curious about the application of six sigma methodology to lawyering, it's quick and helpful. But what struck me most are the insights offered about culture shift. Here's what Seyfarth Chairman Steve Poor has to say:
You have to recognize that people won’t necessarily accept change just because of a flash of insight that you so graciously share with them. It’s a matter of taking pride in the small victories, rather than needing the big victory.
I've always been fascinated by the tension between impatience as a catalyst for change and the importance of persistence, which requires patience. Thomas Edison's relentless quest for a practical, affordable electric light required testing more than 6,000 materials. Steve Jobs was a notoriously impatient manager, but his perfectionism also was grounded in patience, waiting until the product met his exacting standards, inside and out.
The world of lawyering is transforming rapidly, offering new ways to deliver legal services, and threatening old ways. As the licensed custodians of the practice of law, do we have the right ratio of patience to impatience to protect the centuries-old values of our profession while taking advantage of the breakthroughs in access that technology can offer? Ours is not a world that cultivates patience. The jobs we do are framed by deadlines and discrete outcomes. Our work cultivates a disposition toward decisiveness and finality and moving on to the next case, the next problem.
As a repository for our collective professional stories, bar associations can provide a hopeful orientation in the face of the turmoil in the world of lawyering. This blog is looking to find and showcase the small victories in improvements in access to justice, ethics, and professionalism in our changing world, in order to fuel the energy for persistence. Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.