LegalWeek 2024 - Change Management (Part 2)

All appreciation to Epiq for inviting me to join the LegalWeek panel expertly moderated by Kayleigh Bedolla. Came away with great food for thought from my fellow panelists Jason Chancellor, Chief Information Officer from B A L (a US-based immigration law firm); Kate Orr, Global Head of Practice Innovation at Orrick, and Jardanian Josephs, Global Director of Legal Operations at Reed Smith.

Last week in Part 1 we reviewed the change management role, what change management looks like in an organizational context and what attributes or skills are needed for change management.

This post will cover resistance to change, facing down failure and lessons learned.

How do you deal with resistance to change? 

Jardanian noted there is productivity paradox in context of creating workflow efficiencies. First, additional investment is required before the workflow is improved. Second, in a law firm context some timekeepers may be concerned by the impact on billable hours.  Kate added that is why one has to focus on freeing timekeepers from lower level work to perform at the top of their practice capacity.

Kate added one should start with those who want or need the support. For tough customers who say “That’s nice but not relevant to me,” make the change process as easy as possible, engage with someone on their team, focus on client demand and hard numbers. If you can win over your tough customer, then you often have a champion to take the initiative forward successfully.

Jason noted that at the outset of a project the value is often not understood.  One has to manage through stakeholders' fear of personal impact, as well as general fear of change vs. the familiar.

When starting a legal ops change management function, I often describe the trajectory as a smile. Initially folks are excited to have the help, but may feel they are too busy for change  and what you to "do it for them." However lasting change requires partnership and an investment of time from subject matter experts. This naturally leads to some disappointment and decline in initial support, but once you start to deliver value you begin to win support and the downward arc turns back up, resulting in a graph that resembles a smile. 

What differentiates a successful and failed business process transformation initiative?

Jason noted people have to expect failure during the change management process.  Because you do not have all the answers up front, you have to experiment, change course and push forward.  Set an expectation that giving up is not an option.

I completely concur. In my experience “failure” is defined as running out of time. You may have to regroup, learn from what did not go well and change tack, but there is no such thing as failure when you are persistent. To reduce opportunities for failure surround yourself with people with different skill sets and perspectives. I've pulled back from the brink of failure many times by a colleague asking "did you consider x?"  

Kate observed that a team can set itself up for initial failure by rushing to build because of perceived market demand without actually measuring the market and ROI. Though there may always be outliers, once can increase opportunity for success through requires discipline and willingness to push back to achieve clarity.

Jardanian added that data should help with decisions, but should not create “decision paralysis.” When trying something new, data will be imperfect. Collecting and analyzing data helps you recover if you "fail quickly". 

"Fast data is better than perfect data that comes too late. Fast data (even with caveats) can help you experiment and scale much more quickly." - Rajiv Shah, Big Bets

The panel wrapped with lessons learned. Pointers included:

  1. People must see the value in the change, even if it negatively impacts them personally.  
  2. Ability to measure success is critical. Define the KPIs at the beginning of the project, but continue to measure beyond the end of the project. 
  3. Change management requires continual recalibration. You don’t want to push too hard and create resistance or move too fast and risk losing momentum or urgency. Reaching the right balance is hard and not a fixed point. 
  4. Build risk, and response to risk, into your plan.
  5. It is okay to not know all of the answers and is okay to fail. Both are very difficult for lawyers but critical to achieving lasting change.
  6. Copious communication, including active listening/empathy, facetime and storytelling, is essential.
  7. Leverage curiosity in Generative AI, the need for lawyers to come up to speed to support their clients' new generative AI products, and the sense of change inevitability the technology conveys ,to seize forward progress.
  8. If you do not have an internal champion, you are doomed to fail.  

    Most fundamentally, as the practice of law as a profession has evolved into the business of law, success is a team sport. The legal team has to work together to meet the moving target of client expectations.