In an essay in Legal Week, British lawyer Tim Bratton argues that one of the traits we pride ourselves on is actually a flaw, preventing us from seeing the big picture and solving long-term problems:
The problem with lawyers is their conscience. More precisely, their conscientiousness. Because as fast as the work comes in, we develop our black humour security blanket, and tend to rise to the challenge. Yes, we moan, yes we cajole, yes we huff (and puff), yes we put the phone down and roll our eyes. But we crack on and do what needs to be done to get through the spike.
Because as a profession, we are conscientious. It is a kind of character defect we inherit at birth that makes us willing to solve other people’s problems (even when the other people sometimes don’t give us much input into the solution). Well, who wouldn’t want to spend their spare time doing that? Those departments that get to leave work at 5.30pm - hell are they missing out on the fun stuff that happens after hours!
And then, without anyone noticing, the spike eases and suddenly we’ve discarded the life raft and are back to treading water madly (but we think serenely). Problem solved, phew glad that’s over, let’s count all the thankyou emails from the clients we just got (one, two... erm, stop there).
All good once the spike is over?
No. Because by going into conscientious overdrive, we solve a short-term problem at the risk of failing to deal with or even see the long-term one. I would love to write more about solving this stuff. But unfortunately I have some urgent work to do so can’t waste more time thinking about the bigger picture.