Influencing change…

If you stepped inside a lawyer’s office today, it would look pretty much the same as it probably did a hundred years ago with stacks of files strewn all over the floor, on shelves and on the desk. Most law firms still follow very old and outdated processes and are heavily dependent on having and storing paper copies of everything. The only difference you might see is technology that is very slowly changing the face of many things in the legal industry.  It is not that law firm leadership does not recognize that change is essential, but rather there exists a lethargy as to who will execute the change. It seems like a lot of hard work and many managing partners feel that the burden of change is on them. Part of the problem is that most law firms operate as a loosely affiliated partnership and as such it is impossible to reach any consensus, especially where any change initiative is concerned. If a consensus for change is indeed reached, there is always the question of who will lead the change. 

Legal professionals tend to be very busy with their practices, serving their clients and growing their client base. There is hardly any time to think about how to change and many lawyers would rather not contribute their precious billable time to these issues. Besides, why fix something that is working just fine. Lawyers who have power and are successful will often use their success as a reason to resist change. In one of the previous law firms where I worked, we discussed changing the practice management software and the responsibility to lead was given to management. We looked at a variety of software, compared notes and discussed the ideal fit for the firm. We invited some of the lawyers to these meetings but very few showed up. The others, usually the successful ones, cited being busy as an excuse to not be there. When it was time to make a decision, these successful lawyers voted against changing anything, saying that everything was working perfectly. Why change. 

Many lawyers tend to be uncomfortable of any technological change and prefer to use only that which is absolutely necessary for their practice to function. Until very recently, credit cards were not an acceptable mode of payment and clients had to send cheques or a wire. The pandemic forced many offices to operate on a bare minimum, and technology was needed in order to continue to be functional. The use of videoconferencing technology changed the way business is conducted today, with many legal professionals realizing that they do not physically need to be present in the office in order to serve their clients. But this change only came about because circumstances forced it and the financial and economic savings are advantageous to law firms. 

Law firms are also risk averse, preferring to stay with the tried and tested rather than innovate. This fosters a fear of failure and a reluctance to step outside of one’s comfort zone.  Change comes with risk of failure, of things not working out the way it was planned which could increase the firm’s liability and exposure to fraudulence. This is a risk that any organization which wants to grow and stay relevant must take. Change is a process that involves every person in the organization and needs to be supported by management, lawyers and employees. In order to successfully change and sustain that change in the workplace, these barriers need to be overcome through a commitment to change and innovation. Below we will look at three most important stakeholders in a law firm who can successfully influence change and innovation. 

Clients are the most important element in bringing about change. Many clients were demanding an easy and fast way to make payments which led to the addition of credit cards as an acceptable method of payment. Realizing that they are missing out on business and not serving their clients in the best possible way can provide incentives for law firms to adopt new and innovative ways of working. Listening to clients’ needs through surveys, questionnaires or just simply talking to them about what they would like to do differently is hugely beneficial. As the demographic composition of law firm clientele changes, law firms will be expected to change and evolve accordingly. 

Employees are front liners in a law firm with direct contact with clients and their staff. Often law clerks and legal assistant receive feedback regarding the service that was provided to them. This is a valuable source of information that should be used in deciding what and how to change. Again, using surveys, suggestion boxes and maintaining an open mind can often encourage employees to come forward with new ideas and suggestions. A warning though about employees who have worked for a long time doing the same work for years. These employees are change adverse and often have been part of creating the very process that we are looking to improve. Employee expectations are also changing with many employees looking to work from home rather than be in the office. This leads to the question of what the future workplace will look like with many law firms presently occupying empty offices. 

Leadership is crucial to innovation and change in the workplace. Change must be a regular item for discussion in management meetings, with each partner being given the responsibility to research, suggest and support change. Senior partners must find ways to demonstrate their serious commitment to innovation and participate in any way possible. Communicating with all stakeholder on change matters on a regular basis keeps that initiative fresh and alive in everyone’s mind and ensures that it is completed. 

Having a professional who is trained in project and change management is an asset to a workplace looking to innovate as such a person keeps the project on track, makes adjustments as required, provides coaching, guidance and support to those who need it. This professional is trained to look at various process, systems and protocol, and instigate continuous change and improvements to those behaviours which keep us embedded in outdated procedures and processes. 

If you know of or are using other ways to keep innovation alive in your workplace, feel free to share your thoughts below. 

About the Author

About the Author

Jessica Samson, MBA, CHRP, C. Mgr.

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