Patrick Andrews is a lawyer, facilitator and writer, who founded New Forest Advisory in 2013. He works with small and medium-sized businesses, as well as a number of not-for-profits, helping them navigate the law and to devise legal structures and processes that work with the grain of human nature. He is also a skilled facilitator, working with boards, teams and diverse groups to help them access their collective intelligence. Patrick also set up The Human Organising Project in January 2015 to explore what it means to be human in this age, and what that means for the way we organise the institutions that run our societies.
In January 2017, I went to the New Forest to meet up with Patrick and, during a beautiful walk through the National Park, he shared many insights about his journey to a more holistic practice of law and to his work on organisational change. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Patrick, will you share something about your journey into becoming a lawyer and how that evolved?
When I think back to when I was at school and I had no idea of what I wanted to be. I was always fairly intuitive and would follow hunches. Choosing the law was suggested to me.
What I found is that there was something quite artificial about the way lawyers think – certainly in litigation. There are many emotions involved but the law would say that that is not important. For the people involved [in the litigation] that was not the case.
People do not sue people unless they feel emotional about it. That was a really good example for me about how the law cuts out an awful lot of stuff that it considers as extraneous and that actually is really important.
I found the same would happen for me as the lawyer, because you start thinking in that way, and you start looking at things in a particular way. I went along with that because I was getting a good salary and nobody around me was saying there is anything wrong with that. Something in my heart though was saying speak up and say what is happening to you.
I got to a point where I would be sitting in office looking at papers and computers and completely disconnected from things that were really important to me like nature and caring for things and caring for people. I’d reserved those for the weekends.
It does not mean that I have not met hundreds of great people that are also lawyers. It does mean that there is a lawyer mindset that is cut off from the rest of the world. It ended up separating me from things that were really important to me. I had to get out from that world to reconnect with those parts of myself.
It is hard because part of the role is to represent others that we often do not like or do not agree with. Like good actors we can lose ourselves in the role. We suppress what we really think because we are focused on what is in the client’s best interest. It is easy to move to an abdication of responsibility and say “Oh, I will work for anybody and do anything because it earns the money.” It is a slippery slope.
How do we add true value as lawyers?
I started out as a litigator. It was quite a dispiriting and dehumanising process for the lawyers and for the clients. You would end up charging an awful lot of money and end up wondering how much value have I actually added.
By contrast, I found this lovely idea of lawyers as healers. Going back, I can’t remember where I read it but someone said that in some traditional communities you would have three types of healing professions. You would have the clergy, the doctors and the lawyers. That made my heart sing, I could really get that. At my best, that is what I can do, I can help bring people together, not help them fight each other better with different tools.
So, you build relationships. To do that, you have to be this holistic, expansive sense of who are we as humans.
I pay much more attention these days to what is going on for the individual I am working with. Where are they? The right legal solution for one client may be completely different to another. One may want a twenty-five page contract because that is what they need and the way their mind works. For another one, a handshake may be enough. You have to tune into the person first rather than just seeing it as an isolated problem from the people and the environment. I am much more sensing-in to things now rather than analysing. Analysing is about splitting apart whereas sensing-in is much more about where does this fit in the whole and what are the relationships.
There is a tendency within the law to use language that is quite alienating. What are your thoughts on how we use language and words as lawyers?
Lawyers in some way are like coders because coding is about trying to find language to interface with technology and so, we need to find the right words. Then we need to be a bridge to people who do not speak the code. Using long words makes the job feel more important and a bit mysterious whereas the art should be to make it clear and understandable to anybody.
Architects design a house that is welcoming and warm. The plumbing (coded language, legislation, defined terms etc.) has to enable that. Often the lawyers put the plumbing first because they are communicating with each other. They forget that they also have to communicate with the outside world.
It takes confidence and experience to find the right words. The best poets are the ones that are able to use three lines. As an in house lawyer, I would often have a battle trying to reduce the length of contracts. It dates back to the time when lawyers were paid by the word and to the whole mystery around professions. I think this is slipping nowadays because people can see that the doctors, the lawyers and the university professors are just human like the rest of us. There is also the reality that I would not be able to charge so much if people were able to see how simple it is.
I think there is another fear – imposter syndrome. I certainly felt this many times in my career. This feeling that “One of these days I am going to be found out.” But, you know, life is so complex. There is no such thing as the perfect contract, it does not exist. Acknowledge that the perfect contract does not exist, and try and trust that you build relationships where people say, look we all fail, we’re all human. Let’s try and do the best we can.
Unfortunately, that is not the sort of contract most lawyers consider. It is usually about the pursuit of the perfect contract but this just ends up costing clients a lot of money and is deeply unsatisfying and useless most of the time.
What are your thoughts about the culture around the “billable unit” and associated high costs for lawyers’ work?
If you objectively look at what a nurse of an intensive care unit does, and what a lawyer does, it is only the market that justifies the lawyers being paid twenty times as much. It is only the market and power. It is not intrinsically more worthwhile. Lawyers should not kid themselves. From a societal point of view, [legal services are] not more useful.
They are not twenty times more useful than what a doctor or nurse does.
I never had to keep a record of my time as an in-house lawyer. I do sometimes now keep a record of my time. I noticed, when I started working independently, that when I worked at an hourly rate, there was a very subtle encouragement to put in the extra hours. It was very subtle. I am not particularly motivated by money but, when you’re working it is easy to think I will put an extra hour in. It was not a cynical attempt to cheat my client. Equally, I certainly was not encouraged to do as few hours as I could for the maximum quality.
I do think the hourly rate is very problematic. It distances because it mis-aligns the incentives. I have been experimenting with different ways of charging. For one client who I had worked for before, I said “Obviously, money is a concern for you. Why don’t I do the work and then, at the end, you can pay me what you think is fair.” And that is what happened. I got paid less than I might otherwise have but I developed a relationship with that person that was so strong that she has recommended me to many other people. So, in fact, it was absolutely priceless.
I am quite happy to pay five hundred pounds an hour to a top lawyer for good quality advice. You do not though need sixty hours of that. You need about two hours. In some places though, you are paying an associate with five years experience three hundred pounds an hour because law firms are interested in making an lot of money and because the market says they should. A top lawyer could go for a walk in the forest for an hour and provide you with a solution worth millions of pounds. Another lawyer could spend thousands of hours and not come with anything of such good quality.
Could you describe what your work involves right now?
It is a mixture of things. I am an in-house lawyer for fifteen to twenty small businesses, social enterprises, businesses with a purpose. It is a bunch of different companies that need someone they can turn too to let them know: “Oh, you need a lawyer for this or you don’t.” or “I can do the contract for a quarter of the price, or so on.” Law firms can be intimidating and expensive. This is much more nimble and low cost. I am also someone who understands the struggles of running a business which many lawyers don’t.
What really interests me is organisational behaviour. Much of the dysfunctional behaviour I see is around the way organisations are structured. I am working with a few people on organisational transformation – the legal and other aspects. We may be coaching, training, running different group processes and talking about different legal structures. For example, I am helping a business convert to being employee owned. There are 500 employees and they are quite conventionally structured.
There is also more interesting work in self-management. What the latest behavioural science suggests is that people who are freed up to do what they like are more likely to care for others, they are more likely to care for the planet and so on. I live in the New Forest, a national park, because I am passionate about trees and nature. For my parents’ generation, the issue was rebuilding after the Second World War. For our generation, the big issues are climate change, species loss, disconnection from nature. So, there is a real alignment in what I am good at, and what I am passionate about. Change the way companies work, and you will change how those companies impact and relate to their surroundings.
What are one or two things you believe could really start to transform the legal industry?
In society as a whole, I would love us to move towards a ‘no fault’ situation. In the NHS, for example, why are doctors sued when they make a mistake? Why not say ‘Here is a learning opportunity’. Why have blame involved? How does that help? Then you would need more lawyers as mediators. I would love to see more of that.
I would love to see law firms getting rid of their offices, or transforming their offices to be much more liveable, and encouraging their lawyers to get out more. It is a fundamental principle in journalism – the new journalist arrives, sits at the desk and wants to write the article. No, go out, go to the location and write the article. Go to where it is happening.
And if the lawyers would get out into nature more, out with their families, bring their kids into the law firms. Just start blurring the boundaries! It is deeply uncomfortable for some because they are very comfortable in the law, and the abstract world. Actually though, to really make a difference, you have got to get out and expose yourself.