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LegalOps Iatrogenics: When a Good Idea Can Go Very Wrong

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This is the introduction to what I hope will be an ongoing series of posts. It may be slightly less regular than I’d like, but I’m going to start nevertheless and hope that it forces me to create a new habit.

I’m intending to discuss topics which are triggered by our front-line experience, but considered through the lens of evidence-based management and work practices. The goal of this is two-fold; to use the exercise to refine and deepen our own understanding of the topics, and to help others identify and overcome the challenges we present by applying the best evidence available.

The title could just as easily be LegalTech Iatrogenics as LegalOps and LegalTech are virtually inseparable in the current environment. And that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.

None of the potential insights provided in this series will be our own, as they will have come from a list of giants of evidence-based management and work practices that we rely on, including: Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert Sutton, Huggy Rao, Amy Edmonson, Dorothy Leonard, Teresa Amabile, Jim Collins, Gary Hamel, Michele Zanini, Anthony Ulwick, Fred Reichheld, Scott Keller, Colin Price, Bill Schnaninger, Peter Senge and of course Peter Drucker.

The only potential value-adding activity we might provide is applying these insights to the specific context of LegalOps/Tech. And we’re not pretending many of these problems don’t exist in other functional areas or groups. We just happen to have a front-row view of LegalOps/Tech.

Unfortunately, one of our deep-seated cognitive biases (we’ll leave the discussion about whether these are bugs or features for another time), is we have a bias for noticing negative situations much more easily than positive. So if our goal is to interest people, and spur discussion, then we’re more likely to use topics which are entitled and presented negatively to engage people. Even if we don't like being negative.

To that end, we’ll be approaching each of these topics like a pre-mortem, in line with Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi’s idea of using inversion as the means to avoid bad decisions and unintended side effects.

My favourite application of Jacobi has to be by Charlie Munger when he said, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” Sadly Charlie died on November 28th, 2023 at 99 years old. Fortunately he left a well-marked intellectual path for others to follow.

This is a representative topic list (in no particular order) we intend to address with the first volumes of this series:

  • Power is at Stake
  • Below Average Management
  • Responsibility without Authority
  • Some Legal, Very little Ops
  • Legal Administrivia
  • Be Hard on the Problem, Not People
  • Legal is a Snowflake
  • Legal is an Island
  • No Slack, No Improvement
  • Cost-centre Box
  • Flying Blind
  • LegalTech Addition Sickness
  • Incentives and Outcomes
  • Delegating Operational Effectiveness
  • Disregarding the Evidence
  • Can't Fix What You Can't See

If you have a topic you’d like covered, don’t hesitate to make a suggestion in the comments.

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