Change Is Good. Really.

By Jennifer J. Ator

Generally speaking, lawyers are comfortable with change. In fact, a good day is when a lawyer can facilitate change, whether it’s a change in the law or a change in a client’s circumstances. Nevertheless, when it comes to lawyers making changes in their own practices—the who, the how, and the where—change becomes a dirty word.

In December I moved my practice. I left a firm and partnered with a former colleague with whom I had much more in common. In addition, I moved my office to a location only a few blocks from my house. When I made the initial decision to move, I was excited—truthfully, almost giddy. I knew it was a great decision for me and my family. I never made it any secret that I wanted to practice close to home, and I was gaining a partner who is like a sister. I had moved before; I believed it would be a piece of cake.

Unfortunately, the journey was not the yellow brick road I thought it would be. Moving is hard and expensive. New location, new address, new e-mail—all brought challenges. Thank goodness for the Internet. It allowed me to continue servicing my clients during the transition. And it made obtaining new client agreements a little bit easier.

In hindsight, my initial reaction was correct. My practice has flourished with the move. My quality of life is greatly improved. There are no firm politics. I am busier and more efficient than ever.

I can tell you, however, during the journey there was a lot of cussing, whining, and moaning. It got me to thinking, why are lawyers so stuck in the status quo? Why are professionals who administer change not able to handle change in their own business?

As a witness once said to me in a deposition, “I have a theory!” My theory: Lawyers don’t like change in their business because . . . change is hard. The status quo is easy.

Think about it. Associates who are billing 2,400 hours at the mega-firms stay there because change is hard. They have adjusted to a quality of life that allows them to go to Tahiti the one week a year they have off and pay for the Upper East Side apartment they arrive home to at midnight. Partners who don’t even like each other stay together because it is too difficult to move and divide a practice. Lawyers who have not learned to use e-mail are just as happy having two secretaries to field the inquiries and wait on them hand and foot. They will tell you that it is too hard to learn how to use those complicated computers.

There is no doubt about it, change is hard. But change is good, and lawyers must remember that we might be busy helping shape the laws of this country, but we also have to adapt to the changes within our culture—whether those changes are technological, economic, or societal. In fact, we should be embracing and encouraging those changes. It was change that gave minorities the right to vote; it was change that allowed women to attend law school and medical school; and it is change that has fueled the growth of our economy.

Next time someone wants to make a change and you are tempted to say, “but that is how we have always done it,” just remember: Change is good. Give change a chance. 

Jennifer J. Ator practices with Hankins & Ator, PL. She may be reached at .

Copyright 2008

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