Psychology of Lawyers and Knowledge Management: Encouraging Collaboration

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

One of the goals of knowledge management (KM) is to increase collaboration and to facilitate knowledge creation and sharing. While this can be a daunting task for KM professionals working with lawyers, who can sometimes be a protective and skeptical group, findings by a leading expert on lawyer psychology may provide some interesting and helpful guidance.

Using personality instruments such as the Caliper Profile and Hogan Assessments, Dr. Larry Richard has studied the personality traits of thousands of lawyers. According to Dr. Richard, “lawyers have above average scores on Skeptical (90th percentile), indicating a tendency to be argumentative as well as suspicious of others, and Reserved (65th percentile), indicating a tendency to distance themselves from others and become uncommunicative.” While these may be the traits of a successful lawyer, these tendencies pose a serious problem for KM initiatives in law firms. KM is based on sharing and distributing knowledge. How can this be accomplished if KM professionals often encounter barriers imposed by lawyer personalities?

While lawyers vary substantially from the “norm” on six social traits, according to Dr. Richard’s research, KM professionals can still leverage the information from this survey to collaborate and communicate more effectively with lawyers at their firm. Dr. Richard also reports that lawyers tend to value the Learning Approach (69th percentile), suggesting they value education and enjoy academic activities and discourse. Providing in-house educational sessions regarding the value of KM and its resources therefore should prove beneficial. Furthermore, implementing solutions that provide attorneys with knowledge about their practices, industries, and changes in the law has been a cornerstone of traditional legal KM. Current awareness tools support the value attorneys place on education and demonstrates that KM is aligned with the needs of their attorneys. KM has to be promoted in law firms in a way that lawyers can see the value in it.

Another set of traits that distinguishes lawyers from the general public is their higher Urgency (71st percentile) and Autonomy (89th percentile) scores. A high score on Urgency is characterized by impatience, a need to get things done, and a sense of immediacy; a high score on Autonomy reveals that lawyers value their independence and tend to resist being managed. They are results-oriented and seek efficiency and economy in their everyday business dealings, often under immense time pressures.

A brief demonstration of how KM initiatives, not just KM-related technology, can have a positive impact on their practice should more than resonate with busy attorneys. The presentation should address the areas important to attorneys, such as reducing the amount of time spent on a given task, saving the client money, promoting quality and consistency across the firm, and increasing efficiency. Indeed, what better way to efficiently obtain results than by connecting lawyers to other colleagues who have addressed a similar issue, exemplar documents already vetted for desired results, and a well-organized repository of thoughts about the legal question at hand? KM resources such as enterprise search, repositories of exemplar documents and templates, and KM Counsel (also known as Practice Support Lawyers) are aimed at addressing these issues. These resources allow attorneys to work autonomously (enterprise search and document repositories) or to rely on highly respected attorneys (KM Counsel), so as to not make them skeptical of the results.

Once your attorneys see the value of KM, their willingness to collaborate, create, and share knowledge should follow.

Jennifer Mendez is a Knowledge Management Solutions Analyst based in the Morristown, N.J. office of Ogletree Deakins.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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