How to use change management for true legal transformation in 2024

green rubber plant

Imagine if marketing teams around the world used flyers as their sole way of bringing awareness to their products. That would be the definition of archaic or even insanity in today’s fast-paced, digital world.

If we look inside in-house legal teams today, that is what we will find. Not flyers, but outdated processes, manual and repetitive tasks, contracts stored hurriedly across several online platforms in an attempt to have them *somewhere* before the legal team moves on to the next fire they have to put out. The situation looks like the digital equivalent of the pile of contracts and paperwork lying on New York lawyers’ desks in 1990s movies.

Why is change so difficult to implement in in-house legal teams? The problem does not lie with the lack of technology, or the lack of smart and driven professionals in the industry. Rather, the issue is with the industry’s need for training when it comes to managing and pushing for change. While aspects like legal operations have become more common practice in recent years, there is still a lot to do to bring about true legal transformation.

In this article, we have put together pointers to help you manage change within your organization. Whether you’re looking to implement a new technology like a CLM or new systems and processes in your legal team in the coming year, we share insights we gathered while attending a webinar on how to effect true change for true legal transformation. The webinar was hosted by Electra Japonas, CEO & Co-founder of The Law Boutique, joined by Nikki Thomas, Change Lead at Wildfire, and Andy Morris, former Law Firm CIO and Tech Lead.

Table of contents

    1. What is change management?
    2. How to build a change management plan for legal transformation
    3. When things don’t go so well
    4. 5 things that can go wrong when implementing change
    5. Cheat sheet: simple things that can have a positive impact

What is change management?

Nikki Thomas, Change Management Lead at Wildfire, shares that change management, as opposed to popular belief, is not dark arts or a fluffy coaching technique. It is methodical, tangible, structured, and data-driven. The purpose of change management is to minimize the impact of a new system or tool (i.e. change) on performance. Research by McKinsey shows that effective change management can yield up to 143% of expected return. 

Staggering research by Prosci shows that if a project has effective change management, 93% are expected to be successful while only 15% of those with poor change management are likely to meet their objectives. 

Nikki argues that the research clearly states the need for effective change management to create positive experiences and yield positive results when building new systems or implementing something new. Her experience echoes what our own Customer Success Lead has witnessed when supporting organizations implement our CLM.

Implementing a new tool can be a lengthy process – even for in-house legal teams that have thought about a strategy and discussed it with other internal leaders before purchasing. A lot of different needs from different teams have to be addressed while fine lining the process. But where in-house legal teams have not thought about the details nor sat down with the different teams before purchasing, they could face major challenges when starting to involve other stakeholders in the implementation phase only – which clearly makes the process even longer and more difficult. In the case of a CLM, even though the need for it usually comes from the Legal team, it's important to understand that it's not only them who work with contracts within the company, and therefore the tech will be used by many.

Viktoria Schida
Customer Success Lead, Precisely

How to build a change management plan for legal transformation

Andy Morris, former Law firm CIO and tech lead, retells an experience with adopting an e-discovery tool for a law firm. One thing that stood out was how Andy managed to get buy-in from leadership: “We won them over at the vision.” According to Electra, this is something lots of people don’t invest time in and don’t understand the value of. “People will go and start demoing different tools, a CLM for example. There’s not enough investment [spent] in: What’s our mission as a legal team? What’s our vision for this project? And why is it important not just to us but to the business, and how is it going to add value beyond legal?”

👀 Recommended podcast episode listen: New roles within legal departments and how to speak to different stakeholders to get buy-in for your projects  with Allison Hosking, NewLaw Lead at PwC and Lewis Taylor Murray, Head of Legal Ops Qatar Investment

When things don’t go so well

Another tale without a happy ending this time for Andy was a time when the firm was looking to introduce a document review tool. He got buy-in from the leadership, and the group leader lawyers. But adoption never happened: to them, the change was so apparent, they thought that everybody would naturally get on board. They didn’t spend time implementing change management practices they had seen work before. The other layer (and learning opportunity) was that the tool was going to speed up the process of document review, which for lawyers who make their living with billable hours, was not interesting. “The change looked good on PowerPoint, but it didn’t resonate with everyone,” Andy adds.

Electra asks this simple question: then, how do you persuade your boss or team that a change is a good thing?

To Andy, the answer is simple: Do the work. Everyone is risk averse to some degree, so the work is about clearing objections and understanding others’ points of view and their doubts. Getting people engaged far and wide – not just in leadership – can help empower people to take action. Communicating (and being creative with how to communicate) can be the key to effectively managing the change.

This resonates with our customers’ experiences, as shared by Viktoria, our Customer Success Lead:

When several stakeholders actively participate from the very beginning, even in the selection of the right tool, there is a higher level of trust from the different teams once they get to the implementation phase. Adoption is significantly faster and higher, driven by the shared understanding of the potential outcomes and the jointly established long term goals. An additional effective strategy that we have observed within our customer base involves integrating the tool's implementation and user adoption into quarterly Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). This can help to focus on the next steps and achievements for the different stakeholders rather than only seeing a lengthy process ahead.

Viktoria Schida
Customer Success Lead, Precisely

5 things that can go wrong when implementing change

Andy’s experience resonates with Nikki, who expands on the tangible elements that can help successfully implement change. Here are 5 things that can go wrong without change management – and how to recognize their assigned behaviors.

  1. No clear vision or rationale for change: if you don’t have a clear reason why you are implementing a change, people just don’t engage because the change doesn’t mean anything to them. You lose them before starting your project.
  2. Key leaders not involved or aligned: You will see resistance, waste time and effort to bring them on board later on instead of focusing on the next stages of the project. 
  3. Not being clear on what is expected of team members: People go back to their old ways of doing things as a result of not knowing what they should be doing. 
  4. Not thinking through how you’re going to measure adoption: You won’t be able to tell who needs help or how to adjust the trajectory if you don’t know how adoption has been going.
  5. People revert to old ways of working: When you release your tool is not when the project finishes, but once you notice that the people involved have adopted new ways of working.

As you can see, change management has a lot to do with managing the people side of things, and there is a lot that needs to happen before even releasing a new tool. Being aware and intentional about that element sets you and your team up for a much more successful experience than diving head first into a new project.

Cheat sheet: simple things that can have a positive impact

Some elements of a successful change management plan are quite simple: they have to do with communication choices, understanding your stakeholders, and getting curious about how things work. Below are Nikki’s five simple yet key elements you can implement right away in your legal transformation projects: 

  • Stay away from jargon: Opt for language that someone else – a friend or family member – could understand even though they are not part of the project.
  • Step into others’ shoes: Understand what is important to the people who will be impacted by the change, what would support them, and what your role as a change facilitator can be.
  • Make the user the hero: People care about how a change is going to make their lives easier and what they need to do differently. Think about the real impact the change is going to impact their day to day. For legal teams, that means thinking about how Sales or Finance will be impacted by the implementation of a new contract review system or CLM implementation.
  • Get sponsorship throughout the business: You need several people championing the change to bring credibility to the change. Make senior leaders’ lives easy so they can easily communicate change and processes throughout the project.
  • Conduct a people impact assessment: This way, you can create a more tailored approach to change management. Speak to representatives from the team who are going to be impacted, explain how the new tool will impact them (tech, processes, systems), and allow them to give your feedback on what they need.

As interventions from Electra, Nikki, and Andy have demonstrated, change management is not a blurry concept. When you get to apply change management principles and practices to your own environment, you ensure the success and longevity of your legal transformation projects. 

For more support to apply change management, reach out to the professionals in this article and read up on the research mentioned:

Follow Electra Japonas for insights into legal transformation. Reach out to Electra or the team at The Law Boutique to learn more about how design thinking can unleash your legal’s team potential.

Reach out to Nikki Thomas if you’re curious about what tailored change management can look like for your organization and how it can positively impact your projects. Wildfire also offers change management workshops.

Reach out with Andy Morris if you are a law firm curious to improve your business operations and want to leverage technology.

How do we manage the change journey? By McKinsey and Company

Does your organization need a change management office? By Prosci

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