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June 28, 2023

Perspectives: Change: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Stephen Embry
We realized that the publication world has changed, and we had to move with it.

We realized that the publication world has changed, and we had to move with it.

syolacan via Getty Images

Change. It’s inevitable. We all know it. But we still shudder and groan at the thought. Because change is not easy. It’s not always comfortable. It takes work. I know many of you are mourning that this is the magazine’s last print edition. Like many other publications bodies have done, Law Practice Division leadership and Council made the decision to move the magazine to an all-digital version. In addition to cost savings, a digital version offers increased reach, better analytics and more opportunity to be nimble, among other things. But that doesn’t mean many of us won’t miss the print version. 

These days, change seems to be everywhere. ChatGPT offers a new way of writing. Artificial intelligence provides insights that lead us away from intuition to more data-driven decisions, which requires us to rely on and trust the analytics more than our gut instinct. That augurs for change.

We are all dealing with a new work reality as people work more from home and less at a central office. Automation threatens to reduce the work lawyers and legal professionals have historically done. Rule changes that may impact how and in what format we will practice are being proposed and, in some places, implemented. These changes and many more that we haven’t even thought of make us uncomfortable. All these changes make me think of the book by Spencer Johnson entitled Who Moved My Cheese? It came out over 20 years ago but still offers relevant insights into how to view and cope with change.

The book is a simple parable about two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two small people, Hem and Haw, who live in a maze. At the book’s outset, the four characters have found a room in the maze that contains all the cheese they need and want to eat. Over time, Sniff and Scurry realize the cheese is running out. But Hem and Haw are so preoccupied with eating that they don’t notice.

Sniff and Scurry realize change is coming and begin to look for more cheese elsewhere in the maze. Hem and Haw, on the other hand, stay in denial, curse their situation, blame each other and do nothing. Haw, though, finally comes around. He asks himself one day what he would do if he wasn’t afraid of change. By so doing, he conquers his fear and finds new cheese.

As the book points out, Sniff and Scurry “were prepared for the inevitable and knew instinctively what to do. They looked at each other, removed the running shoes they had tied together and hung conveniently around their necks, put them on their feet, and laced them up.” Hem and Haw’s refusal to face change and do something about it was a recipe for disaster. We see ample examples from the corporate world of what not facing change can mean. Kodak, for instance, knew all about digital photography but couldn’t wean itself away from film. To do so would have meant a short-term hit in profits and disruption.

Blockbuster couldn’t seem to move away from brick-and-mortar stores when rent by mail and streaming was on the horizon. And one close to home for lawyers: BlackBerry didn’t get that people would want mobile devices that would do more and more things. Not seeing change and facing up to it is a good way to end up with no cheese and doom your business.

And so it is with us. We know change is coming. We know we will be required to practice differently to succeed. Market forces and change will require us to rethink ourselves and pivot to new and different models. We may have to recognize that we aren’t the biggest fish in the sea anymore—that we are not special snowflakes and that much of what we do is not an art form.

As a profession, we have historically resisted change. But this resistance to change could make our future difficult. Smart lawyers and legal professionals and well-managed law firms should take a long, hard look at themselves. What are the real risks that change poses to their business and operations? Are there lines of business that may need to be dropped or the delivery of such lines rethought? Do we need to make some hard pivots? Those who do may find themselves, while perhaps not the biggest fish in the sea anymore, at least an indispensable part of the landscape.

These were the kinds of questions we asked ourselves in making the change to an all-digital format. We realized that the publication world has changed, and we had to move with it.

And so it must be for all of us. Be Sniff and Scurry. Put on your running shoes and get going.

Stephen Embry

Chair, Law Practice Division

Stephen Embry is a frequent speaker, blogger and writer. He publishes TechLaw Crossroads, a blog devoted to the examination of the tension between technology, the law and the practice of law. He is chair of the ABA’s Law Practice Division. Embry also serves as chair of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Law Practice Task Force and is Webinar Chair and Steering Committee member of Defense Research Institute’s Law Practice Management section. He is a litigator and advisor primarily in the mass tort and privacy and data breach arenas. [email protected]

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