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ANALYSIS: How to Manage Change in Legal, According to ILTACON

Sept. 13, 2022, 9:00 AM

Last week, we kicked off our three-part series highlighting the key takeaways from ILTACON 2022 with an in-depth discussion of how law firms and legal departments can leverage data in their practice. Another big theme at the conference was change management—which generally refers to the process of implementing lasting developments and innovative advancements in an organization.

Change management is especially important in the legal industry, as lawyers can be particularly averse to change—and for good reason. In the legal profession, change comes with many risks—such as ethical and compliance considerations, client concerns, budgeting, and effects on the billable hour—that must be assessed by attorneys and other relevant legal professionals.

Despite traditional hesitancies, the legal profession is constantly evolving. The sessions at last month’s International Legal Technology Association Conference (ILTACON) specifically highlighted how to bring about advancements in the legal industry through strategic legal operations initiatives and using metrics to measure the success of said changes.

These four tips can help legal professionals tasked with implementing a transformation at their firm or legal department drive successful change management initiatives.

1. Understand Your Audience.

Change management in the legal profession essentially shifts an organization’s existing practice to a more modern, innovative approach. To bring about such a change would be almost impossible without the willingness to accept the change by those directly affected—in this instance, the attorneys.

During a session on change management strategies at law firms, panelist Julia Montgomery, a director at software company Intapp, discussed how understanding the lawyer’s mindset is essential to getting started in managing change at your firm.

Going in with realistic expectations about a lawyer’s willingness to adopt change and understanding their characteristics will help to ensure that your approach is appropriate, strategic, and effective. According to Montgomery, based on the data she presented on the profiles of more than 1,000 attorneys, lawyers are often regarded as skeptics, have a strong sense of urgency, and work better as individuals, rather than in groups.

Now, this is not meant to present lawyers in a negative light, but rather to better understand what you can do to get lawyers on your side when presenting a change. For example: Focus on the outcome when you deliver the message; discuss an initiative’s individual benefits, rather than the collective ones; and be sure to provide the resources lawyers will need instead of making them guess or figure it out on their own.

2. Develop Effective Legal Ops Strategies.

In addition to understanding your audience, developing clear, strategic initiatives is crucial to the success of any transformation. New efforts typically fail not because of a tech malfunction, but because of an improper or underdeveloped implementation strategy.

In a session on legal operations and the future of the legal industy, panelists Carl Morrison and Tom Stephenson, who are directors of legal operations at The Cosmopolitan and Credit Karma, respectively, provided tips for introducing such strategies at law firms.

Some of these included: internal communication, collaboration, forming strong relationships, and fostering a collective understanding of the specific organizational problem you are trying to solve. Organizations must ensure that they are thinking strategically, and no longer just tactically, in order to move the needle.

Developing strategies under the umbrella of legal operations in particular—rather than starting from scratch—is more likely to drive success and provide any developments with credibility, as legal ops teams are already making headway at many organizations.

3. Leverage Rainmakers.

Rainmakers are the “secret weapon” in change management, Montgomery said in her session. She highlighted the importance of getting in front of these big players to bring about effective change at firms and legal departments.

Why is that? Well, rainmakers are individuals in your organization that continuously drive business, bring in new clients, and take proactive approaches. Montgomery revealed them to be more empathetic, bigger risk takers, and more open to the idea of change.

Therefore, a great third step after understanding the general lawyer mindset and developing a proper strategy is going directly to these rainmakers and presenting a proposed change. They often have a large say at the firm, and gaining their approval is likely to have a snowball effect with the rest of the firm—driving approval from even the most difficult attorneys.

4. Measure Success With Metrics.

One final step to keep in mind is how you’ll measure the success of any change once it is implemented. Attorneys like to see results, and if you do not provide them with proof of this, it will make your next efforts to implement change much more difficult. According to the conference sessions, the most efficient way to do this is by using metrics.

However, it was also made clear throughout the week that adopting a metrics program in a legal department or firm is not easy. The idea of metrics is often met with resistance because lawyers tend to fear data—as we saw in the first piece of our ILTA series.

In a session on building a legal metrics program to drive business outcomes, panelists provided attendees with some areas to focus on when launching a legal metrics program, including budget to spend, diversity per matter, working with stakeholders, and having a clear vision.

Panelists also provided what they feel are the seven keys to a successful metrics program, which were: (1) actionable; (2) well-balanced; (3) linked to objectives; (4) leading and lagging indicators of performance; (5) limited to a relatively small number of metrics for each group; (6) controllable; and (7) measured relative to a target.

Metrics continue to be at the forefront of conference conversations, and it will be interesting to see how these programs progress as firms and departments develop ways to measure the success of change at their organizations.

Be on the lookout for the final piece of our ILTACON series later this week, where we’ll discuss professional development opportunities and DEI initiatives.

Bloomberg Law Subscribers can find related content on our Legal Operations, In Focus: Legal Technology, and In Focus: Lawyer Development resources.

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