At least fifteen years ago (maybe more) my husband bought a Garmin GPS navigation system for our car. Though I dutifully entered my destination in our new toy, every time my printed Mapquest instructions or my own instincts conflicted, I’ve deviated and sent myself on a different route. As a result of trying to merge Garmin and my own practice, I would become even more confused and lost than without GPS.
Whenever I complain to my tech-savvy husband, I’ll never forget his advice: “Just give in to the GPS,” he insisted. “Even if the directions seem crazy, inaccurate, or if you step a few miles out of the way, they’ll always get you where you want to go and you don’t have to think about it.” And so I took my husband’s advice. Sometimes the GPS took me down a beautiful path that I would otherwise have missed. In other instances, such as a beach excursion, it took my daughters and I on a joke and detour through barren farmland in Delaware, adding two grueling hours to an already long drive.
Overall, however, my husband’s advice turned out to be correct. GPS, and now Apple and Google Maps, have improved their accuracy so that we can avoid traffic jams and find gas stations and fast food quickly on long journeys. In short, navigation systems have become so reliable that there is less need to think about directions these days. Another task off our plate that doesn’t require an ounce of mental energy.
That is the value of systems in a law firm too. Whether it’s automated or just written on a sheet of yellow legal paper pinned to your wall, following a system can help you eliminate another task on your to-do list.
But there is more to it than that. Because when you indulge in a system, as my husband suggested a long time ago, you also get rid of the mental energy that comes with making decisions. Here is a great example taken from President Obama himself in his memoir, A Promised Land. In one chapter, Obama said that during his presidency he had never had problems making a decision and had never questioned his decisions. Sure, Obama’s admission is a bit arrogant, but it’s also common sense. Obama stated that he had a process for every difficult decision. Instead of going with his gut (in which case the decision would suffer from self-bias), he would call in his experts to review the pros and cons and allow everyone at the table to speak. Then Obama would incriminate each side, make a decision, and instruct his team to implement it. Although many of the decisions Obama faced were difficult, he could always sleep at night, confident that the outcome was the right one because the process that produced it was so effective. In other words, Obama was able to distance himself from the emotional upheaval that can result from focusing on the output by focusing on what he could control: the process.
How is this manifested in your legal practice? Let’s take the example of a price offer. Often times, when lawyers tell a potential client how much a service will cost, the client tries to negotiate a discount – either by invoking poverty or offering to send you referrals if you show a little kindness. Often times, lawyers are drawn into the negotiation and either offer a discounted rate or, alternatively, turn down the deal but feel guilty about not being able to help someone in need. What if you thought about your price as a system or a policy – one that was developed with a lot of thought and research. Instead of trying to override your system and cloud the water like I did with the GPS, just indulge yourself and say firmly, “We set our prices based on the nature of our services and our market fixed, and we do not deviate from the specified tariffs. “As with Obama’s reliance on a process to justify and distance themselves from the outcome, attorneys here could mitigate some of the guilt that may arise by focusing on an end-to-end pricing policy rather than the outcome (i.e. no client accept) from rejecting a customer.
When we talk about systems, we focus on time saving and order creation. But seldom do we mention the savings in mental energy, complications and stress that result from avoiding another decision. However, these benefits only come when you surrender to the system.