The Knowing-Doing Gap in Law Firms!

What do I mean by the Knowing-Doing gap? Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Most partners know they should be giving regular feedback to associates – praising good efforts and correcting errors. Yet associates tell us repeatedly that they don’t receive as much feedback as they’d like.
  1. Most partners know they should be doing less talking and asking more questions when in selling situations. But the questions just don’t seem to come to mind and the partners end up talking at clients too much.

I attribute the cause of this behaviour to the Knowing-Doing gap.

Lawyers are good at knowing stuff. The emphasis in their legal training has been on gaining knowledge and on sharpening their expertise – there has been significantly less emphasis on developing skills.

But it’s not just training that’s needed. There’s lots of evidence that it’s important to practise – to get the skill ‘into the muscle’, so you can do it without thinking consciously – a bit like how most of us drive our cars. After driving a couple of years, we don’t think ‘now I must push down the clutch’. We just seem to do it!

The skill is not actually ‘in the muscle’ – that’s just a phrase. It’s probably in the hippocampus as well as other areas of the brain, such as Broca’s area.

But that’s enough neuroscience! How do people learn new skills in other fields? They practise! Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, writes about needing 10,000 hours to become an expert (eg The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time).

This need for practice isn’t a job for trainers. It’s more an issue of finding ways of institutionalising the activity in the firm. There is likely to be an important role for those in senior positions (including practice group heads) to oversee this activity, help provide the opportunities for practice and encourage positive feedback.

Then we’ll close the Knowing – Doing gap!

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