A Thinking Environment Law Firm?

I’ve just finished my first online session of the Thinking Environment for Telephonic meetings.

It was brilliant. And while I don’t want to go into detail about the session, I wanted to share that this methodology could transform the way young attorneys are trained in law firms.

What a useful tool for the young attorney (or any age attorney) to learn how to conduct meetings, whether these are client meetings or with other lawyers.

When we discussed the first 3 components of the 10 components that make up the Thinking Environment, I was struck by how very far law firm culture is from this way of interacting. In most law firms the focus is on being right. There is a strong sense of hierarchy that if challenged, will mean you’re on the outside and unlikely to advance very far in your career.

In fact the characteristics of law firm meetings are often:

  • hierarchy
  • ego
  • intellectual superiority
  • hurried-ness (not everyone can think clearly at 6.30am!)
  • interruptions
  • fear of failure/ appearing stupid
  • no space for emotional release
  • no appreciation of other

In meetings juniors must listen to their seniors. I remember sitting in consultations where if I had any ideas I would scribble them on notes and pass them to the director I was working for at the time. You see I understood that I was not, as a candidate attorney, allowed to challenge an advocate that charged R4000 an hour. Yet I couldn’t help but want to share my knowledge – smart aleck that I was! So these notes would mean the director could make whatever point I was trying to make, without upsetting the status quo.

I also recall the dreaded “case summaries” at dawn where candidates would present a recent case to the department they were working in. I still remember one where a director cut the attorney off mid sentence to tell him how useless he was.  How does that contribute to anyone’s thinking?

I’m learning a new way of encouraging people’s capacity to think, simple tools that are so effective. The possibility for whole scale transformation of the learning environment in a law firm is enormous, if these tools are made mandatory for the running of all department meetings. Or at the very least, in the case summaries.

I can’t wait to tailor-make this programme for law firms, with the wonderful guidance of Nicola Strong in the UK. Watch this space.

These are the 3 elements we covered today. They are from Nancy Kline’s work, Time To Think.

 1. Attention

Listening with palpable respect and without interruption

—   The quality of your attention profoundly affects the quality of other people’s thinking.

—   As the listener you must be more drivingly interested in what is real and true for people than you are frightened of being proved wrong.

—   As the thinker, knowing you will not be interrupted frees you truly to think for yourself.

 2. Equality

Treating each other as thinking peers;  Giving equal turns and attention;  Keeping agreements and boundaries

—   Even in a hierarchy people can be equals as thinkers

—   Knowing you will have your turn improves the quality of your attention

3. Ease

Offering freedom from internal rush or urgency

—   Ease creates. Urgency destroys.

—   When it comes to helping people think for themselves, sometimes doing means not doing.


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