Legal Tech, Lawyers and Change Management

Many tech initiatives in law firms fail. There are a number of innovators, however firms as a whole are not adapting rapidly enough. Some tech people think you can throw technology in without change management efforts, but technology needs human operators and input at various stages. It helps when products are user-friendly and have a pleasant and easy-to-use interface. But lawyers are indispensable in successfully navigating legal tech within law firms. Drivers of change in today’s market – technology and process – call for unprecedented focus on leadership and talent management.

Change must be well-planned and actively managed. A number of law firms have been adopting excellent strategies based on legal project management, lean and agile methods to reconceive the delivery of legal services. Strategy is just the beginning. Law firms need to plan for managing changes throughout their lawyer ranks. The technology/lawyer gap will continue to exist if firms expect that lawyers will come along at their own pace. Many a project has been undermined by the lawyers it was meant to assist.

It’s up to law firm leadership to make the case for change at the outset, to articulate what changes need to be made and why. Lawyers are self-motivated, independent professionals who don’t just accept what they’re told. The firm must make the case for technology adoption and change and get buy-in over the long term. If you adopt an LPM program, lawyers need to be on board for more than the presentation.  Too often partners will support initiatives if they don’t require any effort on their part. This is the kind of false start that takes place over and over again. Many law firms have made the appropriate technology investments but have failed to achieve desired results because they’ve left the lawyers out of the equation.

Before embarking on any change management initiative, leadership should evaluate whether the firm is ready for change. If the answer yes, it is vital to make plans for managing, communicating, implementing, and monitoring progress. The upfront work creates the structure needed so that all participants understand goals and expectations. It’s harder for lawyers to reject something that they understand and agree is logical.

The best way to lead change is to create a change management team. People need to be motivated and to see what’s in it for them. Part of managing change initiatives is setting clear goals and expectations among lawyers. Firms must instill a sense of urgency and also articulate the rewards that come with successful change initiatives. Those lawyers who support, embrace and drive firm efforts should be rewarded.  Managing and monitoring results is key to gauging progress.

In dealing with lawyers, acknowledging the difficulty and discomfort of change is an important first step. I’ve worked with enough lawyers to know that change is often scary, jolting and can make people come unmoored. One paralegal recently shared with me that the partner she was working with made her print and then scan 4000 documents rather than learn how to use the appropriate technology. While this might seem like an extreme example, it’s not uncommon. It does show that the slightest adaptation can be excruciating for some people. And with the way compensation structures still operate today, in most lawyers’ minds anything that takes away from billing time is a waste.

Supporting lawyers in change efforts and adaption is an investment. Lawyers are not known for their sensitivities or their ability to think outside of the box. Specific plans and tactics are needed for firms to assist their lawyers to adapt. A good start is to define the issues, explain solutions, and share how the firm will embark on process change. If a partner truly will never touch the technology, then don’t waste the effort. However, for most lawyers firms should offer plenty of hand-holding and support. Assess the level of skill, knowledge and tech savvy the lawyer has before training. It’s a mistake to assume that young lawyers will be more comfortable with legal technologies. There’s a reason they went to law school, and it’s not because they love change and uncertainty. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a tech person tell you something is easy, explain it in technical terms and expect that you not only understand but will catch on quickly.

While lawyers are not known for their adaptive skills, successful change management initiatives can provide the clarity, support and guidance to minimize the pain. Firms can lessen their lawyers’ discomfort along the way by careful planning, support and execution. Along with constant communication, lawyers will adapt, giving technology initiatives a much greater chance to succeed.

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