The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Status-Quo, Itself.aderantuser
— nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Every person and every organization experiences fear of change. It’s natural—it protects us from dangerous, impulsive mistakes and ensures that we won’t abandon what has worked in the past. That fear, however, can also become a debilitating obstacle to advancement. Without creative ideas, improved strategies or new products, most businesses will eventually lose their way. The status quo, in other words, is what you should really fear!
To be honest, though, it isn’t really change that we are afraid of—its feeling that we have too much to lose. In an attempt to protect legacy revenue streams, we get tunnel-vision, doing everything in our power not to upset the apple cart. With this approach, though, before you know it, we’ve lost everything.
Think about the tell-tale story of Eastman Kodak. According to a case study on Harvard’s Digital Innovation and Transformation blog, in 1976 Kodak received 90% of film and 85% of camera sales in the US. Only a year earlier, Kodak had actually built one of the first digital cameras, but due to their massive success with film, the company never widely adopted the new technology. After years of struggle, including layoffs of more than 100,000 employees, assets and patents, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in January 2012. (For a more recent example, consider MySpace.)
A story in Forbes even gave a name to this invisible, yet formidable competitor: The Status Quo Police. The Status Quo Police make sure that organizations lock in on the things that helped them succeed early on and perpetuate what worked last year. They insist on blind adherence to the company’s existing technology, product lines, distribution system and customer base. They ignore shifting market dynamics and areas for potential growth.
Are the Status Quo Police running some law firms? Unfortunately, that appears to be the case. In a piece titled Changing the Status Quo, the Law Firm Transitions Blog argued that big investments in infrastructure keep firms from adopting faster, less expensive technology. As a result, “Firms cling to the billable hour in fear of having the tough conversations about how to value the services they provide. Lawyers are afraid of collaborating on business development for fear of having to share clients. Many would rather keep a small piece of business with one client than take a chance to expanding the relationship by introducing to new talent – even when that talent is their own partners.”
Even from the client side, there’s weariness with the status quo at many law firms. According to the 15th Annual Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer Survey, 42 percent of CLO’s say they like to work with firms that offer innovative service delivery and only 4 percent “are satisfied with the traditional legal service delivery model”.
History is littered with examples of organizations so tied to how things were done in the past that they end up deterring innovation, and law firms are susceptible to the same trap. Just because your way of doing things worked in the past doesn’t guarantee future success. And without constantly adjusting your methods and goals to changing conditions you risk losing ground.