The legal industry doesn’t always have a reputation as being one that is yearning for change. While the promise of technology is often talked about, many law firms still struggle with getting this tech adopted. They are constantly looking for ways to fit technology into their business models. Instilling change in communities of high-performing individuals is a challenge.

So, how can firms ensure the tech they buy is actually used? What type of mindset should they adopt? And what are some pitfalls to avoid along the way?

What is your actual motive?

 The first thing firms need to do is to decide why they want to adopt a particular technology and what they’re looking to achieve with it.

For example, it may be that a firm is looking at adopting a new piece of tech mainly for marketing and image purposes. This might be fine, if  they’re clear on their motives and their primary objective is to generate some marketing buzz on social media or in the press. But perhaps don’t expect people to actually use it as much as you might wish.

There are several reasons why firms might go down this particular road. Clients may expect them to have a particular capability or the firm might have seen other firms promoting a new piece of tech. This is primarily a marketing and branding play.

This strategy can also inspire interest and enthusiasm for technology among lawyers. Lawyers might hear about new technology being used by the firm and feel left out if they don’t at least try to use it. However, it may also have the opposite effect – with lawyers discerning the external messaging does not match the reality on the ground. Firms need to tread carefully.

All this means firms need to be honest with themselves about their motives for buying technology. If their motive is more about branding and marketing, they should go heavy on press and announcements. If the primary motive is to actually get that technology used, it is best to focus efforts on adoption. But how do they do that?

Build the right incentives

Two questions a firm needs to ask are: (1) as a lawyer, why should I care?; and (2) as a business, why should we care?

The first question requires a detailed analysis of the pain points and problems lawyers experience in a given field. Focusing on these allows a firm to develop the right message to build incentives for lawyers to change their ways and be open to doing things differently.

For example, simply putting a new messaging tool in front of a lawyer is likely to provoke strong reactions around fears of departing from email. However, researching how lawyers use email, for instance, will instigate conversations around the day-to-day annoyances a lawyer has with email. Starting the conversation with this problem turns the conversation on its head, and makes it clear to lawyers exactly why it is in their interests to change how they work.

The second question requires a deep understanding of firm business models. Introducing financial incentives, for example, will allow 'top-down' incentives to be developed for lawyers to adopt new tools.

For instance, there is a clear business case for technologies that optimise processes clients complain about – particularly if clients routinely challenge fees in these areas. These are situations where the tool can be directly related to client experience and overall profitability.

Combining these two approaches will result in personal incentives and business incentives. These are key for any successful adoption strategy.

 Bring in the right people

Some lawyers may be interested in adopting and using tech for the sake of it. However, these lawyers are in the minority. This means technology adoption is never just about a single tool. It is about people, processes and wider workflows within which a particular technology forms a part. Implementing a successful adoption strategy requires skill and experience. So, if firms want to have successful tech adoption, they need to make sure they are investing in the right people.

The firm, naturally, needs people who understand how lawyers work. Sometimes, lawyers can help here – but having somebody with the skills and experience to assess fundamental needs and present an unbiased view is key. Such a person can answer important questions such as, ‘what does the lawyer do before and after they use this tool?’ and ‘what other systems does this tool need to speak to?’

For tools that involve complex data issues, the firm also needs the data scientists who understand how to process and map the data appropriately. Importantly, the firm also needs project managers to drive implementation of technologies and to ensure performance metrics are tracked and attained.

Pockets of change

Hiring these people crosses one ‘to do’ off the list. But it's one thing to bring in these skill sets; it's quite another to foster an environment where those skill sets thrive.

With larger firms, working environments may differ from team to team. One approach is to introduce initiatives such as ‘innovation hours’ to instill cultural change, and encourage  lawyers to try new things.

However, a more successful approach may be to accept working environments as they are – but look for pockets of individuals within a firm or a team that have the right mindset to try something new and to work collaboratively with others. Small groups of people within firms can produce evidence that change can be successful and this can spur others into action.

Take it slow and steady

Another fundamental aspect of successful tech adoption is for firms to recognise that change is not going to happen overnight, and that things will not be perfect from day one.  Everybody involved in the change initiative has to work together and support each other to achieve the right outcomes.

Firms shouldn't try to tackle every possible business problem at once. Instead, they should prioritise one or more areas they want to focus on and expand incrementally from there.

Approaching change in this way, and starting small, does not overwhelm people. Lawyers are often risk-averse, and approaching change in smaller increments can help adoption of new processes against these personal characteristics.

Adoption is tough

Many firms misjudge the ease with which lawyers will adopt new technologies and change how they work. It is often not as simple as putting a tool out there and expecting it to be used. Firms have to focus on why they want change to happen and what incentives exist for the change to occur. They also have to bring in the right skillsets and approach the right areas of the firm to initiate change incrementally.

Firms that adopt this approach will likely be able to turn technology into more than just a marketing exercise.

Stephanie Vaughan is global legal practice director at iManage RAVN imanage.com

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