Big Law and Avoiding the Skinner Box

The Skinner Box is an operant conditioning chamber used to study animal behavior, named for B.F. Skinner’s rat lever experiment on operant conditioning. Through operant conditioning, a person forms an association between a behavior and a consequence- for example: push lever, get food. Or take an example from Big Law, review due diligence documents, bill take, make money, repeat.

That monotony can lead to mistakes and frustration with Big Law life. One reason I enjoy being in Big Law is no day, no project, no client is ever the same. To help make sure the day to day does not feel like a Skinner Box, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Mix It Up. Look for different projects. Work with different partners. If you are reviewing 300 contracts based on the same form, switch up your physical location every 20 contracts. Novelty will help keep you out of the box.
  2. Emphasize Problem Solving. Approach tasks like a problem solver and not just a task doer.
  3. Muse Issues Together. The rat may have been alone in the Skinner Box, but you are not. Talk through the project with someone on your team. By involving others, you bring energy and life to the project.

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