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Do Too Many Traditional Lawyers Resist Change? (PLUS How it Impacts You)


The research, the possible reasons & how it impacts clients and the entire legal industry – explore why it seems that lawyers resist change

17 January 2022

Costing more money. Starting fights and never really finishing them. Chances are you’ve heard it said before: “Lawyers resist change”. But is that true? And, if so, why would lawyers be resistant to change? And, most importantly, how does that impact clients and the whole legal system (dare we say, the world)?


Research Shows That Traditional Lawyers Resist Change


In 2018, and again in 2020, articles and papers appeared online in which researchers present findings that show that, traditionally, lawyers seem to be particularly resistant to change. The first of these is mentioned in this post from Thomson Reuters.

It says: “The image of the lawyer as a Luddite, rather than an early adopter, persists. While it is relatively universal to be resistant to change, the legal profession has been particularly resistant.”

And, of course, this sparked a lot of discussion online. With similar views and findings expressed in posts by New Zealand’s legal platform ADLS, this one from and even Forbes wrote about it. 

But it’s worth noting that, it’s not only lawyers and attorneys themselves ‒ resisting change seems to be a common trait throughout the entire legal profession. This 2015 study documents how entire courts show resistance and slow adoption of new laws handed down from the national/federal government.



Wait, Why Does It Seem Lawyers Resist Change So Much?


Well, if you think about it, it kind of makes sense… Our legal systems and processes are all pretty old, stable and seemingly immovable. And, apart from a few subtle nuisances, maybe a new law or two and fashions, a legal proceeding today isn’t all that different from what it was 5 years ago, 10, maybe even 100 years or more ago.

The Thomson Reuters article notes that a lot of legal work is built around a very strict focus on the past – think of the reliance on precedent and case law, those are all backward-looking and rooted in the past which doesn’t work well with new ideas (i.e: change). 

It also notes that the legal education system hasn’t evolved much in the last few decades – a sentiment that’s often expressed by legal professionals who practice Integrative Law (a movement in law that actively seeks to create change). 

OK, so maybe lawyers resist change a bit, where’s the harm in that?


How Lawyers Resisting Change Impacts Society


It would be a mistake to dismiss the incredible impact the legal system has on our society. Our laws and how we apply them represent the rules, the DNA, the very core of our civilization. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that it can impact us dramatically.


It Might Raise Costs and Promote Injustice


As founding father of some more collaborative law alternatives, Stu Webb says in one interview, most young lawyers come out of law school “really wanting to do court work, because that’s what’s been drilled into them.” And that is obviously a case of how and where they were trained.

But an immediate problem that jumps to mind is the often excessive and increasing cost of litigation. And, if the lawyer is pushing (even subconsciously) for that “more expensive” route, you have to ask how that’s impacting the cost and access to legal assistance. And how much justice is not being done simply because the client can’t or doesn’t want to go to litigation?


It Turns the Legal Process into a Fight


Most people today assume that there’s only one route to justice, and that’s to “fight it out”. And that’s hugely down to the adversarial nature of most of today’s legal systems. Where parties are pitted against each other, with a win or lose outcome. Despite the fact that there are numerous legal alternatives.

Discover here the potential shortcomings of the adversarial nature of the law.


Traditional Ways Can’t Solve All Clients’ Problems


The problem with traditions is that they don’t always keep up with necessary changes in society. And South African Integrative Lawyer and founder of Milkwood, Rhiannon Thomas, has seen the effects of this first hand. 

Running a traditional law firm, Rhiannon noted that there are often instances where the client needs more than just legal advice ‒ where other, unique problems are entangled in the legal needs. And unfortunately these are often problems that a lawyer is simply not trained to help with.

That’s when she experimented with bringing a psychologist on board to hold the emotional space which was a unique and creative solution that eventually led to the creation of an all-new integrative legal advisory practice, Milkwood.


Many Lawyers Themselves are Deeply Unhappy and Stressed


It could be said that lawyers’ resistance to change is impacting their own lives immensely. Legal professionals are well-known to have some of the highest rates of depression, addiction and suicide in the world. And they are more likely to suffer from depressive disorders, according to numerous studies, including this one from 2016. This is echoed by this 2005 study and many more.

And most studies note that the unhappiness stems from working conditions – i.e. the way that most lawyers and law firms do things. Which begs the question: If it’s making you unhappy, why don’t more lawyers seek to change it?

And even more troubling: Is an overburdened, overstressed lawyer even able to actually assist any client to their fullest? Sustainably?


The Traditional Legal Process Might Not Really be Resolving Anything


As author, American Bar Association ‘legal rebel’ and co-founder of the Integrative Law movement J Kim Wright says in her TEDx talk, not only does going to court fail to really resolve anything, it can actually make it worse. Often “even winning was an awful experience,” she notes.

And that’s a sentiment often echoed by other Integrative Lawyers, including Transformative Mediator Dan Simon who said: “The stuff we were doing as lawyers was not addressing the conflict. Our job as lawyers was to do whatever we could to mess with the other side, in the hopes that it would motivate them to cave in…”

“All we really did was end the fight we helped our clients start in the first place.”


So, Is there Another Way?



If the system isn’t working. And studies show that the people inside it aren’t really looking to change it, you run the risk of society losing trust in it. But, fortunately, there is an entire movement inside the legal industry that’s actively looking to create change. 

Explore with us new possibilities through Integrative Law.


Connect with an Integrative Lawyer near you


Integrative Lawyers are very diverse and you’ll find them all around the world – see the global website.

And, if you’re based in South Africa or the United Kingdom, you’ll find a proud Integrative Legal consultancy in Milkwood

From Conscious Contracts® to Antenuptial and Cohabitation Agreements, to Conscious Parting, Wills and Legacies. Milkwood even offers Training and Workshops on how to build your own Integrative Law practice. See our Integrative Legal Services.

At Milkwood, we are peacemakers and problem-solvers who want to help make the law a positive experience for our clients. We’re all about compassion, caring, continuous learning, humour, integrity, listening, trust and wellbeing.

And we’d love to share in your journey.

Connect with us right here.