Can Thinking Like A Lawyer Be Bad for KM?

Michael Melcher believes that thinking like a lawyer is bad for a lawyer’s career.  He lays out his interesting arguments in a recent piece for the ABA Journal.  Here are the lawyerly attributes that he believes handicap lawyers when thinking about their own careers:

• Analyze rather than explore.
• Focus on flaws and potential problems.
• Look for clear precedent.
• Require solutions of general applicability (“what would work for lawyers”) rather than specific applicability (“what would work for me”).
• Defer action in situations of uncertainty.
• Be skeptical about possibilities.
• Avoid taking risks.

In Michael Melcher’s view, “What works for legal analysis doesn’t work for personal growth. That’s because the processes of attaining career fulfillment and growing as a professional are not all that susceptible to logic.”  Personal growth requires action (to provide experience) and then reflection (to make sense of the data gathered).  Trying to think your way through the unknown is rarely successful if you don’t have sufficient experience or data points to ground your analysis (or fear-mongering) in reality.  The same could be said to be true about planning law firm knowledge management projects.  If you apply these patterns of thinking to the planning process, you could well end up with:

  • An overly restricted range of options because you haven’t allowed yourself to explore and dream before analyzing the issues.
  • Mediocre options because you’ve eliminated potentially good choices prematurely due to your focus on flaws and problems rather than opportunities.
  • Unimaginative choices because you’re unwilling to do something your peer firms haven’t already tried.
  • Safe but boring options because you want to avoid risk and uncertainty.

In short, the result is too little too late.

So how do you quiet your excessively critical thinking?  How do you allow yourself the freedom to dream and be creative?

[I’m indebted to Stephanie Kimbro for bringing this article to my attention.]

[Photo Credit:  Claire Dancer]