By Patrice M. Kennard, Senior Risk Consultant, Business of Law, Wilson Allen

As the saying goes, the only constant is change. How are law firms to successfully navigate change when they’re purportedly so resistant to it? While this belief is a widely held assumption, the day-to-day reality tells a different story. Working in a law firm is many things. It’s tough and demanding, sophisticated and intellectually stimulating, and fast-paced and rigorous. Yet lawyers and staff routinely and successfully navigate change every hour.

What explains the disparity in widely held beliefs and reality? Navigating constant change is wholly different from working through transition. And the art of change management lies in transition. That’s where law firms would benefit from extra care and attention.

Law firms face mounting pressures to adapt to multiple industry trends with accelerated technology disruption leading the pack. Regulatory compliance is a close second as firms deal with heightened data protection and cybersecurity challenges. Streamlining workflows to meet cost-conscious clients’ demands requires re-engineering processes. And using data analytics for strategic decision-making requires integrating siloed data. Whether implementing a wholesale software change or making incremental policy changes, firms can successfully navigate a course to long-term, positive change by careful planning of each phase of transition.

Change v. Transition and Why it Matters

Change is an end-result, or a situation-driven external event. Transition is the path to change; it’s an internal process that people go through to come to terms with an external event. Lawyers and staff are, of necessity, focused on end-results, or client deliverables

Positioning lawyers and staff to engage in an effective, phased transition assures successful, sustained, systemic change. A bespoke change plan is mission critical. It should be aligned with the political, psychological, and sociological realities of a law firm’s unique and results-focused culture. But the mission itself is to lead people through the personal transition necessary to achieve change.

The best change management plans hinge on communication, training, and user adoption enforcement.

Three Elements of Effective Change Plans

Communication

Individual perceptions are important, and communications influence individuals’ perceptions.

Law firm culture is known for a high level of autonomy. While law firm deliverables necessitate group contributions, ultra-responsiveness and uber-responsibility at the individual level is the norm. Political hierarchy and siloed processes amplify autonomy and heighten reliance on individuals.

Therefore, communications must be carefully considered, audience-sensitive, and timely. Messaging across the life of the transition project should provide individuals with clarity on these points:

  • What is the change?
  • What is the reason for the change?
  • What is the benefit to me and to the firm at large?
  • What is my role?
  • How will the change impact me?
  • What are the resources for supporting me?

Training

Lawyers and staff need the skills and resources to make changes. Well-planned training leads to positive adoption of change.

To provide a highly autonomous group with the tools for change, strategically planning training to elicit positive user adoption outcomes is crucial. Training should incorporate these components:

  • Multiple formats to accommodate different learning styles
  • Timing that maximizes attendance while avoiding stakeholders’ crunch times
  • Material benefits, like lunches or time-saving takeaways
  • Feature new users demonstrating relatable examples of the positive impacts
  • Make the training commitment as easy as possible
  • Maintain quarterly or refresher training and add to new hire orientation

User Adoption Enforcement

Some lawyers and staff will not want to exchange the known for the unknown. The best enforcement practices focus on incentives backed by firm policy.

The higher the autonomy of the group, the higher the need for enforcement mechanisms to foster user adoption. Incentives are key, but policies are a must. They reflect formal management support and reach those who may otherwise avoid the shift.  Drive wider user adoption with these best practices:

  • Provide clear direction
  • Present information through easily accessible and highly visible means
  • Understand and alleviate pain points
  • Communicate firmwide successes
  • Include incentives specific to your individual users
  • Communicate management support
  • Widely publicize the plan for sunsetting the old system or process
  • Phase the sunsetting and provide user support

Change is inevitable. But remember – the art of change management is all about transition. Effective change management artists use tailored communications, well-planned training, and robust user adoption mechanisms. By orchestrating each phase of transition with care and forethought – your firm can achieve the results it desires.

About Patrice M. Kennard

As a senior risk consultant, Patrice Kennard works with Wilson Allen’s assessment and advisory services team to help law firms and law departments optimize new business intake processes and reduce conflicts of interest. Kennard has more than 15 years’ legal industry experience and is a subject matter expert on process, workflow, and intake software projects from planning to deployment. In her role at Wilson, she recommends best-practice enterprise conflicts solutions, training and change management approaches, and organizational structure enhancements. She specializes in process and workflow design and Intapp Open, Intapp Conflicts, and Intapp Walls implementations. To learn more about Wilson Allen’s advisory services, please visit https://wilsonallen.com/services/advisory-services.

See the article in the September 2019 issue of TLOMA Today: View Now