Getting the full benefit of new legal technology is not simply a matter of rolling out new products and turning on the switch. There is a "people side" to optimizing technology deployed within a law firm.
At the Changing Lawyers Summit, Litera's Evangelist Curt Meltzer hosted a conversation with three experts responsible for the successful implementation of technology and innovation at their law firms:
- Rachel Broquard, Service Excellence Partner at Eversheds Sutherland
- Angela Dowd, Director of Practice Innovation at Burns & Levinson LLP
- Kate Simpson, National Director of Knowledge and Practice Innovation at Bennett Jones LLP
The guests represented firms based in different regions (US, UK, and Canada) and have a wide range of experience in bringing the benefits of technology to their firms and their firms' clients. All three expressed a sense of responsibility for ensuring that lawyers use their firms' solutions and shared strategies for boosting tech adoption.
Meltzer began the discussion with the acknowledgment that in recent years there has been a surge of interest and investment in technology in the legal industry – even as law firms find the adoption of technology to be a challenge. The panel's conversation provided many insights for other firms on the path to closing that gap.
Laying the Groundwork for Change
One of the most important drivers of change in an organization is a shared understanding of why change is necessary. The panelists focused on four aspects of that foundation for change.
The business reason: ROI. Kate Simpson started the discussion with the acknowledgment that firms are making large investments, and they are looking for a return on those investments. "This stuff isn't cheap, so we need the lawyers to use it to get some of that return on investment. We track metrics to ensure success. We do measure success in terms of adoption and use of technology. "
Solving Specific Problems. Angela Dowd stressed the importance of not adopting technology for its own sake, but because it solves specific problems and addresses specific pain points. "It would be great to have as much money as I wanted just to buy cool things because they were cool. But there are business problems that we are trying to solve," and that is where the priorities lie.
Focus on End-User Happiness. One way to drive adoption is to eliminate routine work from the lawyer's day. Rachel Broquard emphasized the value of addressing that tedious work, making lawyers more efficient to get home earlier, and to allow them to focus on higher-value work when they are on the job. "We understand their pain, and we're trying to help them address those things to enjoy their job more. And everybody wants to get paid to think and be creative, work with clients, collaborate, etc. "
Delivering Better Work to Clients. Broquard reminded the panel that the end game is not to benefit the firm or the lawyers; it is to benefit clients. "Ultimately, this is about using technology to augment our lawyers' services. We are not a technology provider. We are a law firm – and technology enhances the way we deliver our legal services. We aspire to deliver that service excellence to our clients by using best-of-breed technology and therefore getting as many people across the organization to buy into using the solutions to help them deliver better work to our clients. That is what we're here to deliver. "
The Stages of Adoption
The panel was unanimous in thinking of adoption as an intentional process that begins long before the technology is acquired, rather than a step to be implemented after deployment. They highlighted some of the key stages of adoption:
Rounding up the Stakeholders. The process begins when you have defined a problem, and understand who the stakeholders are, said Angela Dowd. "I think it starts with understanding who the people are, who your stakeholders are, and their view of the problem. It's not necessarily just 'what's in it for me,' but understanding how they view a problem. A senior partner will view it very, very differently than a mid-level associate."
There are big risks to not engaging stakeholders early, said Broquard. "We've seen IT departments try to impose tech on lawyers. Actually, the lawyers need to be involved in the process from the very start so that the people on the tech side and the people who are actually delivering legal services to clients are talking at that very early stage. If you leave it until you are ready to launch, you are probably too late. Understand what they want, why they need it, what their pain points are, and understand the human connection with the problem." The motivator for lawyers is wanting to do great work for clients – that's the emotional side of this that technology teams can tap into at an early stage that will drive adoption within the organization.
Planning for adoption. Barquard emphasized the importance of planning the process from discovery to deployment. This might involve putting a pilot together, choosing who will be on that pilot team, and building out a communications plan. It also means thinking ahead to possible objections and different ways of adopting the technology.
Understanding problems before looking at specific tools. The panel noted that many technology deployments begin at the wrong end of the process. Lawyers often come with a solution in mind: "We should buy X," before really understanding the needs of the stakeholders, including both end-users and partners. Quite often, partners will have heard of new technology from a vendor. Broquard said, "You have to be very sensitive in that situation when a legal technology provider has approached a partner in the firm, and they've reached out to you to say 'here's a great bit of technology that I think is going to help me within my practice area.' It might be the first time the partner has engaged with the legal tech program, so you don't want to shut them off. But being mindful of your overall legal tech strategy does require a lot of thoughtful handling and care in that particular situation."
However, those situations can be good opportunities to engage in deeper conversation with stakeholders who might not have been interested in technology solutions in the past. It's an excellent chance to get underneath the perceived need for a particular solution and talk through some existing solutions within the firm. Those conversations have the benefit of building longer-term relationships as well. As Simpson put it, "I can have a conversation with somebody, and we'll both reflect on it, and then we become a lot closer. It doesn't always take a straight path, but we'll ultimately get to the right place.
Balance and priorities
Meltzer asked the group: with so much change and so many solutions to look at, how do firms set priorities in rolling out technology? The panel offered a few suggestions for strategies.
Inventory the tech stack. Broquard recounted a process modeled after the Marie Kondo philosophy around decluttering. A large firm like Eversheds Sutherland has a lot of technology rolled out over the years. "We took a look at our tech stack and worked out which of those solutions are the ones that bring us joy and that we really love, and which ones are maximizing return on investment." They also identified technology solutions that were past their prime or had not been adopted widely – for example, the pet projects of partners no longer at the firm. Acknowledging that resources are limited and focusing on solutions that move the dial.
Don't waste a good crisis. Dowd recounted how the pandemic helped drive technology adoption at Burns & Levinson. It's essential to tie technology to the firm's strategic plan, but sometimes circumstances dictate priorities – when "What's on fire?" is the important question. The pandemic provided one such moment because everyone in the business was suddenly aligned on the need for more technology to enable collaboration in a remote work environment.
No single playbook. Simpson looked back on the various techniques used to drive adoption at Bennett Jones and noted that it was rarely the same playbook each time. "Each technology requires a slightly different playbook to figure out, and no one could have predicted that the pandemic would be one of those things I would put in my playbook." The pandemic drove the elimination of some manual processes, such as the mechanics of a deal closing. "We had amazing adoption among some junior associates, who said they'd never go back to the old way of doing it. But we still had a huge holdout of people still doing it the old way." Suddenly, however, being holed up in their homes during a lockdown inspired those holdouts to try the new tools.
Communications and learning styles
Meltzer asked the panel to share some communications techniques that drive tech adoption.
Telling stories. Broquard has tried a "tell me a story" campaign in which partners who have used technology for a particular client on a specific piece of work share it with the rest of the partnership. "When partners hear some of the success stories from other partners, they're more likely to have their eyes opened and want to engage in that same level of service to their clients.
Events. At Eversheds, Broquard has also held events such as a "Techtober" event, which included a one-week virtual conference for lawyers and a global hackathon in which teams tackled specific client challenges.
The Rule of Seven. Simpson tries to follow this rule from the PR and media worlds, saying that you need to touch people seven times before they will internalize a message. The messages need to come in different formats because some will resonate more than others. This applies to training as well. "We have quite a lot of repetitive meetings with juniors as they learn the practice of law and the technologies that can help them with the practice of law...We see the benefit of that repeated communication and repeated training sessions. So keep going. Keep repeating your messages. It works."
Meet your audience where they are. Dowd emphasized the fact that motivations are different. "How your message gets delivered really has to be customized for your audience. You have to know who they are and what their motivations are so that you can repeatedly bring that message in different ways from different angles so that they internalize that. "
Meltzer noted that one of those motivations could be competition. Many lawyers are competitive and like to show excellence through competitions or peer recognition systems, so those programs can be an effective technique to reach those "type A" lawyers.
The Importance of Metrics
One of the keys to successful adoption is knowing what success looks like. Simpson noted that in an organization like a law firm, "you are not talking about systems and tools that every single person at the firm will use. A targeted select audience uses our tools." The success of a rollout is dependent on what the anticipated benefit is.
A goal centered around, for example, the number of deals that a particular tool is used on requires understanding what the baseline is – how many deals are completed in total today? What's the appropriate target percentage? Where will you get the data that shows whether the goal has been met? All these metrics-related questions need to be addressed in advance and followed up with consistent reporting. As Simpson noted, "We will need that data to show our leadership that the technology is indeed being used. "
Dowd pointed out that the metrics might be quite different depending on the nature of the solution deployed. Sometimes success might be a narrow measure such as reducing the number of hours worked by certain staff members or a reduction in errors on specific steps in a process. Those wins need to be shown again and again.
Broquard added that the metrics collected are not only about the firm and its lawyers. "There are other metrics that you need to be looked at. And for me, client happiness is a key part of that." She recounted a story of how a new electronic signature solution once saved the day when the last minute-change to a signature document could be handled electronically, avoiding potentially having to pull the client out of a holiday celebration to obtain a physical signature.
Simpson ended the discussion with a reminder that no two innovation initiatives are the same, and no playbook works in every situation. "You need to be creative and have a catalog of approaches for success. So don't try the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different outcome, but have a range and try different things with different tools for different audiences. Recognize the differences among us."
Posted in The Changing Lawyer