The political U-turn - is changing your mind incompatible with integrity?

Theresa May is coming under the kind of ferocious attack that a political pack leader can expect from those in whose interest it is to bring her down. During the recent election campaign, she was castigated for changing her mind on various matters including as to whether there should have been an election. Another political figure, Tim Farron, has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, explaining that he could not fulfil his role without compromising his beliefs as a Christian. To me, these are two very different matters.


The term is pejorative - the very reason that we want consistency is that it meets our desire for certainty in a world that is fraught with change and the unexpected. Those who change their view, opinion or position are not to be trusted; trust is based on expectations and when our expectations are not met we are left unsure, uncertain and vulnerable. We are taught to keep our word, to turn up when we are told, and to be reliable. This allows others to depend on us, but should we always comply just to please others?

New Information

Science is a classic example of hypothetical models being ‘proven’ to be true and later found to be otherwise based on new information. A recent example is the discovery of fossils that bring forward the advent of homo sapiens by some 100,000 years. Were experts wrong?  In one sense they were; though in another not, as their judgments were based on the facts as they knew them. What would be wrong, and foolish, would be to maintain their previous hypothesis in the face of new evidence.

Why then do we not allow politicians to change their minds? Why can they not change strategy, tactics and messages when it is plainly wise to do so based on new information?

Values and Integrity

Religions and other belief systems enshrine particular values which have a greater or lesser impact on believers depending on the degree to which they choose to adhere to them.  Parents value their children’s wellbeing while others may value nature and the wellbeing of our planet; these values are akin to priorities. Integrity involves the integration of our values into our daily lives through our attitudes, behaviours and choices. One person’s integrity is not the same as another’s.

Tim Farron has found himself conflicted and has chosen his Christian beliefs over his position in politics. Is he to be condemned for that? I say not. One may disagree with his purported views of homosexuality but it is surely as much his right to have such an opinion as it is for others to have different opinions, provided we do so peacefully.

Political Values

Cynics might say that this is an oxymoron and that politicians are slippery individuals who value nothing but personal and party advantage. I have met a few in my time, of different mainstream parties, and found them without exception to be dedicated people willing to give up anything resembling a normal life for the sake of service to others. They must run the gauntlet of ferocious personal insults and threats from the public, as well as endless criticism from journalists and pundits who have never walked the walk. Are there some bad eggs? Of course there are. However, the vast majority deserve to be allowed what we allow ourselves; namely to change our minds when new information is presented to us, and to stand by our values when circumstances demand.

Interview with Ari Kaplan

I was interviewed by Ari Kaplan on the themes covered in my book. Read the write-up below.

Ari Kaplan spoke with Peter Rouse, an intellectual property lawyer and serial entrepreneur, who is the founder of the Rouse firm, an international intellectual property consulting firm. Peter is also the author of Every Relationship Matters, Using the Power of Relationships to Transform Your Business, Your Firm, and Yourself, the second edition of which the ABA released last summer.

Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and the genesis of your book: Every Relationship Matters.

Peter Rouse: I have spent my entire career in and around the law. I worked for many years in London and internationally, including with Baker & McKenzie in Asia. I ended up running my own firm for 10 years. I learned a great deal and thought that I really should get down some of the things that really matter to me. So, I thought perhaps I ought to write some of that down. I set about doing something around 2005 and it took me about three months. Eventually, I persuaded the ABA to publish it and they asked me a couple of years ago to write a second edition. I changed a good deal of the original material to bring it generally up to date with my own feelings and views. It is also available outside of North America under the title: Fragile: Mastering the Relationships that Can Make or Break a Career and a Firm.

Ari Kaplan: What updates were necessary for the second edition?

Peter Rouse: The iPhone didn’t actually exist and reach the market at the time that I was writing the first edition. Technology is impacting legal services and other professional businesses in how they function and their headcount requirements. What we are trying to do is absorb this technology into our working and private lives, both of which are becoming ever more intermingled and inseparable. It is fascinating and yet driving us into something of a corner. I continue to emphasize the importance of self management. We’ve got to recognize that with all of the additional pressure and accelerated expectations of our clients and colleagues for substantive answers, if we are not managing our internal life well, then we just can’t expect to perform. I am addressing that head on in the second edition and I hope offering some sensible advice about how you might go about making sure that you are fit for your purpose and don’t go bonkers in the process, finding yourself overwhelmed and ending up as a statistic.

Ari Kaplan: Given the impact of technology, where should professionals focus their efforts and develop skills to remain relevant in this market?

Peter Rouse: Focus on personal skills and your ability to collaborate. I was reading that instead of the struggle for survival, which I think a lot of lawyers could associate with, someone called it the struggle to get on with other people, to cooperate, to work together, and to leverage technology including artificial intelligence for the best possible outcomes for their organizations and their clients. What we’ve got to concentrate on if we are going to survive and thrive is what sets us apart from AI, like our interpersonal skills.

Ari Kaplan: Is it possible to create an instruction manual for a successful professional career?

Peter Rouse: Unfortunately, no. The whole process of building a career is about developing an understanding of yourself and of others. Being brilliant at what you do requires an openness to change, but since you don’t know what that change is going to be, learning to adapt, modify your behavior, and grow your skills and resources during your career is the way to do it. A professional career is a bit like a landscape. We can all look at a landscape view and see it differently, but there will be some common features and we can describe those features for the benefit of others just as an artist might paint it. While there isn’t an instruction manual, I did include some simple points at the back end of my book. One of my favorites is do what you say you’re going to do. Trust is built on expectations and managing your client’s expectations is what service is all about. You can’t just think that you can be a great lawyer and deliver your work in any way you’d like. You have to ensure that the clients have a great experience because there is an abundance of choice. You need to understand their needs and then truly address them, not just say that you will address them and give them your cookie-cutter solution. Get in there and get human with them. Talk to them, listen to them, and address their humanity without compromising your independence or your objectivity.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technologies

This article was first published on the Above the Law website.

Read the original article

Listen to the original interview on the Reinventing Professionals website

Unethical behaviour - why do we do it and what is the cure?

I examine unethical behaviour in business and professional services.

Hardly a day goes by but we read of another corporate scandal involving dishonesty of one form or another. Major banks, as well as household names such as Rolls Royce, VW and Tesco, are reported as paying settlements running into hundreds of millions. The legal sector is no exception and the latest scandal involving former human rights lawyer Phil Shiner is one example. So why does this keep happening and what can be done about it?

Susceptibility to influence

I have just finished Professor Robert Cialdini’s new book, Pre-suasion – a revolutionary way to influence and persuade. It is an astonishing catalogue of our susceptibility to cues that have been proven to influence our subsequent choices and actions. For example, simply being asked whether you consider yourself an adventurous person before answering questions put by a street survey agent makes it vastly more likely that you will willingly hand over your email and phone number. They are unsettling revelations, not least because this knowledge in the hands of the unscrupulous can be used against us for profit.

AI in the wrong hands

Perhaps because references to the accelerating impact of AI in our working and personal lives are so prevalent, at least in my spheres of interest, my first thought was how Cialdini’s evidence-based methods could be put into use on a mass scale using AI. My conclusion is that all it needs is a business with targets to reach and investors to please. While dystopian projections of the impact of technology abound, exemplified by Channel 4’s ‘Black Mirror’ series, we should not sleep walk into the insidious infiltration of influence techniques designed to divert us from truly free choice.

Unethical conduct

Professor Cialdini acknowledges the possibility that what he has revealed will be misused and addresses it head on; though in doing so confronts another human factor in play, namely the predisposition to act unethically for financial gain. He refers, among other sources, to Ernst & Young Global Fraud Surveys (20132014) ‘documenting that many senior business leaders know the heavy reputational costs of recognised unethical conduct but are willing to enact or permit such conduct when it raises company fiscal outcomes’.

Cialdini refers to the VW diesel emissions debacle which led to the company’s largest loss in its history and its reputation going from 70% favourable to 80% unfavourable. He offers some possible explanations as to why senior business leaders persist in such behaviour and concludes that they simply don’t think they will get caught.

The ‘power paradox’ and reward bias

I find myself saying ‘surely not’; surely such things could not be allowed to happen in a major organisation that must be subject to controls that prevent such behaviour. Another book I have read recently is The Power Paradox – how we gain and lose influence by Dr Dacher Keltner, who demonstrates that those who are afforded power tend to believe that the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them. Regrettably this thesis also rings true.

Reward bias is one of 25 cognitive biases explored by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s long-time business partner, in a paper entitled ‘The psychology of human misjudgement’. The proposition is that when there is a reward incentive most people will do whatever it takes to obtain it, including behaving unethically. When the power paradox is combined with reward bias it is easy to see how business leaders might behave unethically and so, surely, we should expect it and be ready to deal with it.

The consistency trap

In his earlier bestseller, Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini explained our tendency to act in consistency with our choices. This may explain the otherwise puzzling fact that unethical conduct can be suspected, or even known, and yet nothing is done to investigate or address it until, for example, a whistle-blower sounds an alarm that cannot be ignored. When that happens, many will express outrage despite having previously turned a blind eye to the situation. The explanation may be that it is safer to act in accordance with existing choices, for example by staying with an existing supplier, than it is to take affirmative action in consistency with commonly stated values.

What is the cure?

Human nature being what it is, the answer must be that deterrence rather than cure is all that is achievable. Bribery, corruption, fraud, and dishonesty in general are corrosive and can be addressed by law, provided there is a willingness to report and bring offenders to account. Too many are ‘getting away with it’ right under the noses of those who prefer the counsel of the three wise monkeys (hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil). Corporate responsibility includes being prepared to deal with dishonesty decisively.

Professional standards

My sense is that professional standards and sanctions have a real impact on legal professionals because, having worked to obtain a professional qualification, the majority are not willing to risk being prevented from practising and so lose their livelihood. Company directors are far less likely to be prevented from working, or being appointed as a director, because they have bent the rules. 

Reputation is all-important in professional services and when it is lost the consequences can, and should be, catastrophic. Some providers of professional services have been, and will continue to be, drawn into unethical conduct and their clients must be prepared to subject even the most established relationships to scrutiny. Unethical conduct is a zero-sum game in which both clients and the profession are losers until the perpetrator is brought to account.

What importance do relationships have in a modern legal profession?

In 2005, after spending some 25 years in and around the law, I set about writing down what I had learned and valued most. What emerged as of central importance in my career and for the firm I created was relationships; with colleagues, clients and indeed anyone I dealt with in the course of practice and business. Professional, working, relationships are different to personal relationships, and perhaps a little simpler in some respects, and they deserve our deliberate attention.

My book was published by the American Bar Association in 2007. In 2015 I completed a second edition which has just been published, again by the ABA, in North America. That revised text has also been published outside North America under the title ‘Fragile – Mastering the relationships that can make or break a career, and a firm’. As I began updating my text, I realised just how much had changed in terms of technology (the first iPhone had not yet been launched in 2005) and in terms of the regulation of legal services (ABS was an abbreviation for ‘anti-lock braking system’).

Technology has had a significant impact on all our lives, relentlessly accelerating the flow of information and (often banal) communication. In the midst of all the data and apps are we, with all our human traits and ambitions, trying our best to make sense of it all in the context of our personal and working lives. As an individual, professional and businessman (each roles of sorts that involve different modalities) I can do more, with less, than ever before. In all those roles, however, I am also conscious of the struggle to keep pace with the expectations of others to whom I am now expected to respond immediately.

Popular fascination with AI and robotics, exemplified by the unprecedented success of the Channel 4 series ‘Humans’, has led to dire warnings from some quarters that Lawyers’ days are numbered that are, I believe, equally fictional. Nonetheless, and though the dystopian future portrayed in ‘Humans’ may yet come about, AI has a much smaller part to play in legal services in at least the next 5-10 years than the doomsayers predict.

Naturally, as new tools emerge that reduce or bypass the risk of human error we should use them. Those who used to performed tasks that can be done by machine will learn new skills and find other work, as has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. My sense is that we need to focus on enhancing our service capabilities in areas that do not readily lend themselves to programmable decision-making.

So long as humans manage their personal lives and run businesses, own financial resources and direct decision-making in organisations, they will look to other humans to help them navigate their way through conflict, change and opportunity. Lawyers can and should provide ‘counsel’ in such a way that takes account not only of the facts and applicable law but also of the emotive situations in which clients, and others involved, find themselves. 

Service is not just something you do; it is also, and perhaps most importantly in terms of perceived performance and the likelihood of repeat business, an experience. Service experience is also much more than providing fancy meeting rooms and serving good coffee. A client has a right to expect a lawyer to get the law right; what makes the difference is how well-served the client feels throughout the engagement, regardless of the outcome. Understanding and managing expectations is, I believe, the key to trust; and trust is key to success in retaining and building client relationships.

Another aspect of relationship that is of vital importance is that which we have with ourselves. We do well not to underestimate the pressures we place on ourselves, and are placed on us, to perform as professionals: to be ready at all times with the right answer; to deliver considered and properly articulated responses, usually in writing, to exacting deadlines; to be ‘always on’. To have a sustainable and successful career without losing touch with yourself along the way it is more essential than ever to become an expert in self-management.

The focus of my book is on learning about effectiveness in relationships on behalf of your business, for yourself and for the organization. This is the new field of advantage and one that offers longer-lasting success in business and quality in life. I believe that the capacities and life skills I am addressing are what are needed to make the practice of law sustainable and profitable. Given the rapid development of AI and its ability to handle work that would once have been done by secretaries, paralegals, and, before long, lawyers, surely it makes sense to focus on what sets us apart from computer intelligence.

First published by Legal Futures on 6 February 2017 

Find out more about my book, Fragile