I’m writing a book with the working title: IN-HOUSE TOM: a new model for the law department, law firm & C-Suite relationship – initially as a series of blogs.
You can follow the full index of the blogs as they build here: IN-HOUSE TOM: INDEX
IIN-HOUSE TOM: SECTION 3.7 Trend 7 #lawyersbacks: a growing minority of lawyers are starting to, counter-intuitively, “have each others backs”
The seventh, of seven trends, against which background in-house counsel must run their target operating models is that slowly and with maddening caution a growing minority of lawyers are starting to challenge the status quo and “have each others backs”.
The status quo, which I set out in detail earlier, can be summarised as the dysfunctional behaviour which most lawyers and non-lawyers acknowledge is prevalent in the relationship between law departments, law firm and the C-Suite.
While I say “most”, based on my anecdotal experiences over 15 years, I acknowledge that not all lawyers agree, are more than happy with the status quo and indeed a few have exhibited, what might be called in the animal kingdom, hostile noises towards me and others on these issues.
Those at the top of the profession, in-house and out, have no incentive to rock the boat. Why would they?
Even for those of their number who challenge the status quo the response can be negative. For example there was a furious response from some GCs when the UCL Centre for Ethics and Law in 2016 published its Mapping the Moral Compass Report in 2016 in which set out four categories of in-house lawyer:
- the capitulators
- the coasters
- the comfortably numb
- the champions
That list chimes with my experience of working with hundreds of in-house lawyers over many years.
“The Coasters”, the report said “…was the largest group by some distance…They had moderately low levels of perceptual moral attentiveness but moderately high reflective moral attentiveness…we speculate that this group is not yet being tested or testing itself in ethical terms”.
I see a correlation between in-house “Coasters” behaviour in relation to in-house ethics and their attitude to the ethics of the current house status-quo: they’re keeping their heads down.
But over recent years I have noticed three developments which suggest that there’s a growing minority getting ready to be ready to be ready (sic) to speak out:
- The success of the #MeToo movement is encouraging more lawyers to believe that deeply embedded behaviour can be challenged successfully
- More lawyers are becoming more and more comfortable airing their views about the dysfunctionality of the profession on social media
- In-house lawyers who have been brutalised by “the business” are more willing to speak up, and help each other – at least in private. The recent outing of NDAs as instruments of mental torture has helped. In 2019 I ran a six month trial, which I called #lawyersbacks, to create a safe place for lawyers, in-house and out, to talk about their shocking experiences. The trial proved that a) there is a need for such support b) the support needed doesn’t exist currently c) the problems are systemic.
This delicate growth – against all their adversarial legal training instincts – of the value of helping each other, with the help of one or two high profile high EQ law firms and ESG-oriented C-Suites, will be the key to “disruption”in the legal profession, worldwide.
Once the numbers reach its tipping point – change, which has been gradual, will be sudden.
Watch this space.