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Can the Kuber Ross Model help the legal industry adapt to change?

Kuber Ross Curve and law

Kuber Ross Curve

The legal profession is changing.

How can we help lawyers and law firms accept change in culture and pricing and adjust to the new world? The Kuber Ross Model, The Five Stages of Grief, can be used to help understand the emotions involved in change and help lawyers move through emotions to process and accept change.

The Kuber Ross model, the Five Stages of Grief, was developed to understand the emotions experienced when dealing with grief and trauma. The five stages identified were shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Although the model is usually applied to those dealing with death and terminal illness, it has been adapted to understand how people respond to change. It can help lawyers adjust to and embrace change.

By facilitating progression quickly through the phases to acceptance, we can create an environment where change is embraced. Lawyers are empowered to be creative, more productive, and work towards new objectives.


Adapting the model for the legal and business world

All change involves loss. Business leaders saw similarities with the emotions shown by employees who were subject to change in the workplace.

The model identifies the coping mechanisms used to move through and manage change. It can be successfully applied to help individuals, organisations, and industries.

Although we are more familiar with the model being applied to death and terminal illness, it can be used to help lawyers adjust  and embrace change.


How can it help the legal industry?

The legal industry is going through a period of change. Change in culture, technology, and expectations of clients. This includes fees and pricing and questioning of the traditional billable hours model.

Some firms have embraced the changes, adopting flexible work practices and new and innovative charging structures, others are reluctant to change.


The model can enable lawyers, and law firms to understand how to manage change and adapt.


What is the Kuber Ross Model?

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross created the model to explain the changes in grief and loss. She worked with terminally ill patients to understand death, and the stages people went through after experiencing a traumatic situation. Her model, the five stages of grief and loss, was published in her book Death and Dying.

She identified five stages, shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The model is not always sequential. People do not always move through the phases smoothly, one stage at a time. The stages can exist at the time. People may go forwards or backward, or even get stuck.

Businesses have used the model because the emotions of personal loss can be the same as when experiencing a change in an organization.

The change curve is a personal journey, people have different experiences and respond differently to change.


How can it help the legal industry to understand and work through the change needed to the industry, culture, and pricing?

Organizational, cultural, or industry change is a personal change. Ultimately, lawyers are people, and law firms are simply groups of people.

Only after changes have been made on a personal level, can the legal industry start to gain the benefits of those changes.


What are the stages?

Stage 1. Shock and Denial

Why me? Why is this happening to me?

The initial response is usually to believe that the event has not happened or will not happen. Some respond quickly to the change and adapt, others struggle to progress through the emotion.

Lawyers know change is happening in the industry. Some may not want to believe it and may need time to accept the change and adjust. They may pretend that it is not happening and stick their head in the sand. They may hope that if they ignore it, it will simply go away, but change is unavoidable.

It is important to help lawyers understand why change is required and how this can be beneficial.

A way to help lawyers and the legal industry through this stage is with careful communication.

Ensure relevant information and training are given. That this informs but does not overwhelm. New ideas and information may need to be introduced slowly and gradually

There may be many questions asked at this stage. It is important that any concerns raised are respected and honest answers are given.


Stage 2. Anger

Why is this happening? It’s not fair!

After the initial shock, people can become fearful of what lies ahead. That fear can turn to anger. The industry has remained in its comfort zone for a long time. The idea that changes and up-skilling are required to move forwards may cause anger and frustration.

They may feel powerless and are looking for someone to blame. This can lead to anger. This anger can take many forms and be directed at different sources, family, firms, colleagues, and virtual communities.

The anger is a natural response and will fade in time.

The best way to manage the angry stage is to stay calm and not respond with anger. Ensure communication is maintained and delivered logically and rationally.


Stage 3. Bargaining

Can I have more time?

When the news starts to sink in, the bargaining stage may start in an attempt to put off the change. Attempts may be made to try and limit the changes.

One way to help during this stage is to be flexible, and be open to new ideas and ways to help process change and move forwards. Change may not happen quickly and understanding may be required at this time to build a better future.


Stage 4. Depression

It’s hopeless!

This can be the most difficult stage when they become aware of the loss and the association with change. People can be sad, and helpless, may give up, and lose hope.

In a work environment, there may be low morale, low energy, and a loss of trust. During this stage, people can become de-motivated and worried about the future.

Care is required, listen to concerns and encourage the development of new skills. Take positive action, and introduce exciting training and workshops.


Stage 5. Acceptance

It’s going to be OK.

During this stage, changes are accepted. Lawyers and law firms begin to engage with new processes, alternative ways of working, and pricing are embraced.

This can be a creative space where people embrace new options, they accept that rigid hourly rates are not the only option. They begin to explore alternative ways of working and consider new fee and pricing options.

This is the objective when lawyers feel relaxed with improved productivity and a willingness to work in a new way towards new goals.