One mistake, possibly more than any other, is the reason behind so many failed legal technology purchases. And law firm management and software vendors are equally to blame: they both treat the purchasing decision as the end goal. The result is a landscape littered with failed technology and innovation initiatives that is bad for management and vendors alike.
To see that failure in action, consider the disproportionate amount of time spent on the purchasing decision. There are committee meetings, and partner approvals, and IT meetings, and a myriad of other hand-wringing activities. But if no attention is paid to planning and managing the technology implementation, then all that effort is wasted.
To successfully implement and adopt legal technology, more firms should apply change management principles to legal technology implementations. The concept of using change management to improve adoption isn’t new, but it has yet to achieve widespread use in the legal industry. However, the concept is actually ideally suited for law firms. If IT projects typically run 45% over budget, 7% over time, and yield 56% less value than projected in other sectors, imagine the impact in firms where lawyers continue to prioritize billable hours instead of using available productivity tools.
What Is Change Management?
Firms have imported other business concepts like project management, lean, agile, and Six Sigma, so why not try change management? Change management isn’t (supposed to be) a euphemism for layoffs. In reality, it is an effective method for improving technology implementations. Change management is a structured approach to transitioning an organization (and the people who make it up) to a new state that reflects new processes, procedures, and technologies. The aims of change management are to help employees to understand and embrace changes in their current business environment, and to maximize the benefits of the change while minimizing the negative side effects.
A Purchase Without a Plan Is a Failure
How many times have you seen lawyers purchase legal technology and then not use it? Or if they do use their purchases, their use is ineffective and infrequent? Perhaps you’ve even been one of those lawyers? The result is that all of us, as lawyers, aren’t getting value from our legal technology purchases.
Casey Flaherty has been shining a light on this problem with his firm bullshit series. He points out how making the purchasing decision and merely announcing it is enough to earn accolades for both the firms and the technologists. But what happens next? Nothing. Of course the initiative fails. If firms (and their clients) want real change, firms must work to make it happen.
Organizational Structures Contribute to Implementation Failures
Organizational structure is a significant contributor to implementation failures. According to Bill Henderson, the problem is that organizational structures that facilitate decision-making discourage the flexibility and creativity necessary to adopt new ideas; and structures that encourage autonomy and creativity lack clear pathways to a purchase decision. A change management plan that ignores the role that organizational structure plays will fall short. Looking honestly at structure and culture is as important for implementation as assessing technology function and affected workflows.
How to Use Change Management to Turn Technology Failure into Successful Implementation
Change management requires that firms:
1. Get Buy-In Before Purchasing
Include associates, administrative and IT staff, and partners in the decision-making process. Even a simple poll or request for recommendations can make people feel heard, even when their suggestion is not ultimately chosen.
2. Plan a Pilot Program, Roll Out, and Training
Early testing helps to identify gaps in planning and challenge areas. Start rollout with people who are flexible and adaptive, and will tolerate an iterative process. Use these early groups to plan future firm-wide training sessions, reinforcement of training, and talking points to encourage adoption.
3. Identify Change Agents to Maintain Buy-In and Set the Tone
Change agents have the resilience to get through the challenges and adjustments that will be necessary to make change stick. To properly set the tone, change agents should come from a variety of positions, skill levels, and levels of influence within the firm. A concentration of unattainably tech savvy or politically powerful people will hurt change efforts, because these types of outliers tend to demonstrate difference rather than build a sense of kinship.
4. Make Policy Changes Where Needed
Just like anyone else, lawyers will not embrace an initiative that causes them to earn less money. So harmonize firm policies before marketing the change initiative. Failure to align incentives and rewards with the technology initiative will sow discontent and condemn it to failure.
5. Create New Workflows
For technology implementations to stick, all efforts must be focused on incorporating the technology into routine and developing a new status quo.
6. Provide Training
People must be taught how to use technology and shown how it fits into workflow. They must experience the benefits, and have opportunities to improve their use. People do not become expert users after a single training course. They must be given opportunities to do more as they discover that more can be done.
7. Set Realistic Expectations
Unrealistic and unmet expectations can undermine confidence in, and cut short, a genuinely successful technology initiative. Productivity will not increase overnight, and in fact, may initially dip. People need time to learn and retool, return on investment will likely be lower than the sales people led you to believe, and not everyone will get on board. Expecting something less than magic or perfection will give the implementation time and opportunity to succeed.
Without applying the principles of change management, technology purchases are reduced to an expensive, poorly-defined statement of goals. In contrast, each change management principle corresponds with a critical step in planning and management. I suspect that the reason that 70% of technology initiatives fail is because there’s no follow through. There’s a lot of fretting over the decision, but not enough thought goes into the implementation. That can change. By adopting change management principles, you can drive successful technology implementations, which means that you can get more value out of your technology investments and provide more value to your clients.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.