Legal practice without prejudice

As we embark on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, soft skills become increasingly important in the success of people and organizations. How much longer will lawyers who are able to design, create and manage be considered “divergent”?

Authors: Anna Marra, Project Manager, Consultant and Trainer and Director of IE Law School´s Legal Project Management program

In a futuristic and dystopian Mongolia, society is divided into five factions: citizens can belong to either Abnegation (those who are selfless), Amity (those who are peaceful), Candor (those who are honest), Dauntless (those who are brave) or Erudition (those who are intelligent). Each citizen is born into one of the groups and when they turn 16, each undergoes a test to decide definitively which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives.

Apart from these five groups, there are “Divergents,” like the protagonist of Veronica Roth’s famous novel (Divergent) which was later adapted into a feature film. Divergent individuals think independently and could fit into any of the factions mentioned above. Because of their divergence from the established order, the government cannot control them and they are considered a threat to the existing social hierarchy.

Are lawyers living in factions? Do divergent lawyers exist? Do divergent lawyers inspire fear in the sector?

Recently I read a comment on Twitter, which, much to my regret was very accurate. The tweet called for an end to discrimination against “non-lawyers,” getting rid of the stigma included in the word “non” and to define them properly as “legal services providers,” avoiding the prejudice expressed in the negative definition. A lawyer ironically replied to the tweet by saying someone would first have to go to his office of “non-lawyers,” in order to discriminate against them. The bitter truth is that within the legal sector, access to diverse profiles within law firms is still a challenge, but things are changing.

On the one hand, we need to infiltrate organizations in the legal sector. We need “non-lawyers” in the sector; individuals with complementary profiles, such as process engineers, project managers and business, product and service designers, just to name a few.

On the other hand, it is essential to allow divergent lawyers to lead in the revolution of the law firm. In my training courses for Legal Project Management, I often get to interact with up-and-coming divergent lawyers; professionals who are capable of giving legal advice, but who are also comfortable designing new solutions and managing complexity. However, as in the movie, the Divergent is feared. Lawyers who attempt to challenge the pre-established order, who take on multiple tasks not due to a lack of resources or coordination, but because of a personal instinct that allows them to capitalize on their multi-disciplinary nature, are Divergent.

Why do we continue to act as if nothing is changing in Spain? Why do we talk about change without making it happen? As in the famous novel Gattopardo, by Giuseppe Tommasi di Lampedusa, in which the Prince of Salina (Sicily) is forced to choose between upholding the continuity of upper-class values or breaking tradition to secure the continuity of his (nephew’s) family’s influence, in the legal sector, if we want everything to stay the same, everything needs to change.

An ever-changing market is sustained in the 3Rs: “the right person, the right job, the right time.” In other words, it requires that organizations and teams dare to use non-traditional profiles and that professionals (the yes-lawyers) acquire the capacity to take on different roles and stack their functions.

It would be interesting to investigate whether there are common denominators in the personalities of divergent lawyers or not. Personality acts as the engine that drives behavior. Several studies have shown that someone’s personality can predict their success at work over a span of 50 years or more. If we were to adopt the Five-Factor Model (OCEAN), we would rely on five different scales to describe personality: consciousness (the extent to which one is reliable and persistent), emotional stability (which refers to calm and self-control), extraversion (the extent of sociability, ambition and narcissism), kindness (the extent to which one is cooperative and altruistic), and openness to experience (a measure of creativity and the pursuit of novelty).

As a result, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that a high score in consciousness can come out in divergent lawyers, because of their ability to be organized, disciplined, achievement-oriented, and reliable. We would probably get a high score also in emotional resilience, as they are used to handle pressure and to adapt to stressful situations and conflictive people, as well as in openness to experience, because of their creativity and aptitude to search for novelty.

Many law schools focus on building legal knowledge, which is a very weak “hard skill.” Technology is transforming knowledge into a commodity. In the coming years, it will be soft skills that play the most important role in the success of people and organizations. So, how much longer will lawyers who are able to design, create and manage be considered divergent? How much longer will there be silos and factions in the legal sector?

The novel Divergent of course has its sequel: Insurgent. I am very keen on seeing this sequel come to life in the legal profession.

Anna MarraAnna Marra is a PM trainer and consultant for private and public organizations. Anna was a pioneer in proposing the discipline of Legal Project Management to improve performances in law firms and in-house legal departments. In 2017 she became Councillor of the LPM Global Advisory Council of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM). Presently she is IILPM Accredited Training Provider (ATP). Anna is author of various publications on legal project management, corporate social responsibility, and strategy for law firms.

Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.