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The Status Quo: Our Strongest Addiction

by Larry Bridgesmith, JD | CEO of Legal Alignment

Among the many privileges I enjoy is the opportunity to address the topic of conflict management and managing the change of maladjusted behavior that leads to conflict.

I am no therapist and do not profess to be. However, in my work as a mediator, facilitator of difficult conversations and influencing change in unhelpful behavior (especially within organizations), I often wish I possessed the skills and training of mental health professionals.

You can imagine my delight when I was invited to speak recently to addiction therapists, social workers and recovery centers on my favorite topic: difficult conversations and facilitating organizational change. Especially enjoyable was that my trip to Palm Beach included a stay at the famous Breakers Palm Beach Resort.

The Foundations Recovery Network sponsored the event they labeled Moments of Change. An international collection of addiction therapists and the recovery centers in which they work gathered for several days of dialog, speeches and information sharing. Several hundred addiction specialists convened to improve the ways in which they perform a most difficult job: helping addicts regain the rational use of their mind and curtailing their maladaptive behavior.

Regardless of the nature of the addiction, addicts of substance or behaviors continue in self-destructive behavior that obviously is contrary to their best interests. Interrupting the cycle of addiction is extremely difficult because it is cyclically reinforcing.

As addictive behavior takes the addict into cycles of increasingly destructive behavior, escape from a spiral of death becomes increasingly improbable.

What's addiction got to do with legal services?

Now comes the part which will cause most to stop reading this post. Addiction to the status quo is the strongest self-destructive behavior of all.

The legal services industry is addicted to providing legal services in self-destructive ways that are contrary to the interests of lawyers who provide them, the law firms in which they work and the clients who receive them.

Our resort to old behavior patterns that no longer serve our best interests is the very definition of addictive maladjusted behavior.

"Okay", some will say, "that may make sense for alcohol, drugs, food and sex, but the legal industry status quo is neither pernicious nor destructive."

Why does our profession have one of the highest suicide, substance abuse and divorce rates of all professions? What does the insatiable need for more billable time and the revenue it is believed to produce suggest, if not an addiction? Why did my civil procedure professor in my One L class tell us that "Law is a jealous mistress"?

The most damaging consequence of addiction is the inability to explore alternative modes of behavior that might prove less destructive and more beneficial to the individual and those close to her. An oft repeated adage in the recovery community is, "No one changes until the pain of change is more appealing than the pain of staying the same."

In legal services today, the pain of staying the same is extremely comfortable for most, but not the clients. That is why the clients are driving change and lawyers resist it.

Organizations like the Corporate Legal Counsel Coalition exist to model and promote change in the legal services business model. The CLOC mission is:

To help legal operations professionals and other core corporate legal industry players (e.g. tech providers, law firms, LPO’s, law schools, etc.) optimize the legal service delivery models needed to support the needs of small, medium and large legal departments.

As much as we would prefer not to have to change, isn't the pain of change becoming more appealing than the pain of staying the same? Isn't it past time for an intervention?

"Hi, I'm Larry. I'm a lawyer."

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