Judge compares lawyers to airline pilots and an F1 pit crew

In a speech delivered to SJ Live conference delegates, District Judge Monty Trent drew a number of interesting analogies between solicitors and other jobs – airline pilots and an F1 pit crew.

No, the fit isn’t an obviously natural one, is it?

And wolf packs have to go. Teams of 5, 10, 15 lawyers, throwing emails around between themselves and other lawyers; they have got to go. They're not going to be allowed on grounds of proportionality. I have nothing against teams but they should be used more efficiently. Watch a Formula 1 racing team changing tyres; there are about 16 people running around, but each one has one specific task and one task only, and it's all choreographed so that it's all played exactly in the right way. They rush in, rush out, and in less than a minute the car has new tyres.

red bull pitstop

I don’t think DJ Monty has watched an F1 race in a while; it takes a LOT less than a minute to change a car’s tyres. Prior to 2010, when refuelling was still permitted, a car was stationary in the pit box in a regular F1 pitstop for no more than 10 – 12 seconds – often considerably less (you know – those “splash ‘n’ dash” stops we all used to love). Since refuelling has been banned, a 3 second pit stop has become the norm with sub-three second pit stops being increasingly seen.

But I think the point still stands. ;-)

Now for the pilot comparison; DJ Monty was actually referring to the use of checklists.

I also believe not enough use is made of checklists. We should be like pilots. You wouldn't dream of getting on a plane where the pilot hasn't been through a checklist and ticked every single item he needs to tick before pressing the starter button.

“Starter button”. I love it.

Airbus A340 cockpit (Small)It’s a valid point though. Checklists are useful to lawyers and he’s right in saying less should be left to chance with routine work.

But actually, I think the aviation – law connection goes further.

As a big fan of documentaries such as Air Crash Investigation and Seconds From Disaster and Mayday (there are dozens and dozens on YouTube and they make great bedtime viewing) I’ve long thought there are lessons from that sphere which the legal profession can take on board and prosper from.

Flight crews and airlines have learnt the hard way that effective teamwork isn’t just crucial – lives depend on it.

During the 60s, 70s and 80s many airline accidents were attributable to flight crews not working together effectively enough and missing the obvious, getting caught up with trivialities or, worst of all in my opinion, junior pilots fastidiously observing etiquette and deference to their older and higher-ranking captains – even though the latter may have been a bumbling buffoon whose actions were directly hastening the onset of death for everyone on board.

Airlines had to find a way to get junior and senior pilots to work together more effectively. Juniors had to feel they could challenge their seniors without the fear that it would be tantamount to career suicide and senior pilots needed to be able to take constructive criticism and assistance without their pride or egos getting in the way.

First implemented by United Airlines, the answer was a programme called Crew Resource Management (CRM) and I think the spirit of CRM can be usefully applied in law firms, too.

CRM training encompasses a wide range of knowledge, skills and attitudes including communications, situational awareness, problem solving, decision making, and teamwork; together with all the attendant sub-disciplines which each of these areas entails. CRM can be defined as a management system which makes optimum use of all available resources - equipment, procedures and people - to promote safety and enhance the efficiency of operations.

Breaking those barriers between junior and senior is an important principle that allows lawyers to perform better and provide an improved level of service to their clients. I’d like to think that most trainee solicitors would have no qualms about going to any partner in their firm to ask for help or to ask what might be regarded (by some) as a silly question without fearing their career would never be the same again. Equally, no partner (or any fee earner for that matter) regardless their experience, should feel they are beyond question.

No matter what your career, colleagues make a great sounding board.


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