From #SHRM13 – HR Pros Should Think Like Lawyers


Auguste Rodin The Thinker
Auguste Rodin The Thinker

When I was in law school, one of the directives I heard repeatedly from my professors was to “think like a lawyer”. When I became a law professor myself, I would implore my students to do the same.

“Thinking like a lawyer” isn’t an empty catchphrase used to humiliate law students. Search the term on Google and you will find how-to books written with that title, because it is a real skill that needs to be developed for law school – and eventual lawyering – success.

In its simplest form, thinking like a lawyer requires some basic steps:

  1. Pay attention to and analyze everything you see, hear, read and write.
  2. Think about the issue(s) or problem(s) that your analysis identifies.
  3. Use precise logic and specific evidence to support any conclusions about the resolution of the issue/problem.

Jumping through these mental hoops about everything is satisfying for the lawyer or law student, but it can make life frustrating for friends and loved ones who listen to the lawyer logically analyze even the simplest of situations.

But HR pros would be wise to use those lawyerly skills to help them sharpen their awareness of HR-related problems and issues, then using that awareness to confront and solve their HR challenges.

For example:

My first night in Chicago for #SHRM13 was last Saturday. A group of us went to dinner at a restaurant called Dick’s Last Resort. I didn’t know it before we got there, but it became evident early on that the entire staff at Dick’s was either irreverent or downright obnoxious and rude.

Because I was actively engaged in step #1 – analyze everything – it quickly became clear that the staff was behaving like this intentionally.  Thinking like lawyer then helped me identify the HR problem the staff behavior presented:  “How does this company hire obnoxious or rude servers to fit their culture?  Is this a training challenge or a hiring challenge or both?”

I haven’t gotten to step 3 yet, because that is going to take a little more research. But just analyzing the situation and discovering a problem helps me as an HR pro, because the existence of a corporate culture and how to identify it gets reinforced and I get reminded that hiring requires a big look at cultural fit.  By actively engaging in those thinking skills – while I was out having a nice dinner with friends – I can become a more thoughtful, aware HR pro. Researching their specific ways of hiring for cultural fit will give me a practical take-away.

Try practicing this critical thinking skill once every day until you find that you can understand and analyze a situation quickly and succinctly, and see the HR implications or issues presented. You will truly become a better HR pro.

Beware of voicing all of this to your dinner companions, though, because they may not want to eat with you any more. 😉