find the latest legal job
Senior Associate - Competition, Policy & Regulatory
Category: Other | Location: Sydney CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Work with a well regarded Partner · Sydney CBD
View details
Commercial Litigation Senior Associate
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Sydney CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Lawyers Weekly Australia Partner of the Year 2016, Insolvency
View details
MULTIPLEX Regional Legal Counsel (Vic) | 7 to 10 years + PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Career defining in-house role · Tier One international contractor
View details
Junior Lawyer - Personal Injury Law
Category: Personal Injury Law | Location: Parramatta & Western Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Highly specialized practice · Challenging role with great opportunities
View details
IR Advisor/Member Advocate
Category: Industrial Relations and Employment Law | Location: St Leonards NSW 2065
· Permanent (0.8-1.0 FTE) role in a developing team
View details


Scales of Justice, law

Why work in law? Why work at all? Why any activity for that matter? asks Bob Murray.

It’s an age-old question. What motivates our behaviours? Philosophers have wrestled with this for millennia, psychologists for a bit less time but with equal, if not greater, fervour.

If we knew the answer, we might also understand the answers to another series of “why?” questions: Why depression? Why stress? Why terrorism? Why theft? Why child abuse? Why divorce? Why alcoholism? Why drug dependence? Why inequality? And a whole string of other rather depressing “whys?”

I am a clinical psychologist and also a behavioural neurogeneticist by training, so I naturally use those disciplines to ponder those “why” questions. And I think I have the one answer to all of them – and it’s really simple.

The answer is: Because we are human and because we operate according to human design specs. The main element of our design – about 80 per cent of our DNA and our neurobiology is about this aspect of us in some way or other – is that we are relationship-dependent and relationship-seeking creatures. Law, like any other occupation, is about seeking out and strengthening supportive relationships.

Within this supportive relationship-seeking context, there are other elements of our behavioural design:

• We seek certainty, especially certainty in the duration and depth of our relationships

• We seek to have an element of control over our lives, or autonomy

• We seek to establish trust

• We seek status (often confused with money or wealth) because having status is generally equated with safety since humans, like baboons, tend to protect those of high status.

Collectively these are what we call the CATS drivers, and the need to satisfy them is embedded in our genes.

Within this framework all of our behaviours make sense. When we hire the services of a law firm, we are not buying law. We’re seeking a relationship which will give us CATS. When clients get into a dispute it’s usually because one or more of the CATS was promised but not delivered. When a partner leaves a firm, it’s because he or she is not getting one or more CATS (remember that money=status at this level).

A supportive relationship is a mutual satisfaction of these needs. “Belonging” simply means being in the company of those that give us CATS. Human beings will literally die for such a relationship. Suicide bombers, so researchers tell us, are prepared to kill themselves to support those that have given them this sense of belonging. In actual fact the dictates of Islam have generally little to do with it. There have been people ready to give their lives for others long before there were radical jihadists.

Major depression or anxiety, and a whole slew of other psychiatric and physical disorders can be signs that the human system has been asked to exceed its design specs. For example, take being fired or laid off from your job (or even feeling the threat that this might happen). Humans are designed for inclusion not exclusion.

Exclusion from our “tribe” (work or other) is extremely stressful for most of us and recent research has shown that being divorced (or being the child of a divorcing couple) or laid off more than once or twice can lead to heart attacks – sometimes even decades later – because of the damage that the stress hormone cortisol has done. Many criminal acts, including murder and mass shootings, have been traced back to the perpetrator feeling he or she has been excluded by the victims in some way.

The answer to the “Why?” is always: “Because we’re human, because that’s how our design specs operate.”

This is the real danger posed by AI, electronic communication and the rest of the goodies that technology is bringing us. By excluding ourselves from face-to-face communication; by denying ourselves the possibility of real, supportive relationships; by making ourselves, our colleagues and our children redundant, we are ratcheting up the stress on ourselves and the outcome will not be good.

The pity of it is that lawyers and law firms are being dragged into being less human and more automated. A desperate race to the extinction of the profession.

You automate to make things cheaper and quicker for the client. In the end, the client asks “Why should I pay at all?”

To remain relevant lawyers will have to realise that they’re not really in the business of law. There’s nothing in the human genome mandating to seek legal services. They’re in the business of being trusted advisors in all fields of human activity. Like the tribal council of elders, they’re in the business of wisdom.

Humans are designed to sit down and talk to a human being who will give them CATS and who they perceive is wise, like many law firm partners I know, as wise men and women are programmed to need your services.

This is the human “why” of the business you’re in.

Dr Bob Murray is the principal at consultancy Fortinberry Murray and co-author (with Dr Alicia Fortinberry) of Leading the Future: The Human Science of Law Firm Strategy and Leadership.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Human body, illegal organ trafficking, ALHR
Australia poised to combat illegal organ harvesting: ALHR
The Australian Lawyers for Human Rights are calling for changes to the law so that organ trafficking...
Online service, barristers, BarristerSELECT, Stephen Foley
New online service leverages barristers’ clerks to aid briefing
A new online tool has been launched to help NSW solicitors find the most suitable barristers for the...
NSW District Court judge, Tim Gartelmann SC, next appointment,
Silk replaces outgoing NSW District Court judge
A barrister has been named as the next appointment to the NSW District Court, following the retireme...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...