Leading Change – What It Means to Be a Transformational Law Firm

In my experience, law firms and lawyers themselves only initiate change after eons of long deliberation and consideration. It is, after all, their reputation — and often their names — on the shingle. In some cases, it takes so long to make a change that the matter is shelved an d forgotten, collecting dust. Never mind being transformational.

Over the years, this consistently slow approach to accepting change, capitalize on new technology or be transformational continues to entrench firms with mediocre
solutions and a host of workarounds. These firms tend to use complicated system configurations and a plethora of integrations (i.e. other software developed to work in conjunction with your current software).

What Worked in the Past May Not Work As Well in the Future

Previous generations of law firms could get away with slower adaptation. However, the vast changes that have occurred in the last 10 years in terms of technology, efficiency, and marketing does not allow this generation the luxury of lengthy time to learn and adopt. They must rethink what it means to be a transformational law firm.

Don’t get me wrong, law firms have changed drastically over the last several decades. Looking back to my first job in the legal industry, as a college student working in a law firm’s file management department, the lawyers were not happy giving up their paper-based, red-rope operations to move to anned, electronic documents. The massive computer terminals and green screens went to PC’s, word processing and file management. Even when faxes were hot, it was not easily accepted to receive faxes as electronic documents in the form of emails and scanned documents.

Ten Years is an Eternity for Technology and Marketing

In the past ten years, with the recession and downturn, a valued reputation does not carry as far as it once would. Now, if you do not meet the client where they are (i.e., the right media channel), you might not get their business. Reputation is critical, but so is being found by your target audience, driving your firm’s efficiency forward, and maximizing your resources.

I often hear the same or similar issues in law firms, even if their practice areas or firm sizes differ. Patterns emerged, and so I’ve put together a chart to shed light on some of the reasons why firms are seeking GrowPath’s case management solution and wanting to transform their practices.

Indicators that point to your firm needing to change and be transformative

If your firm is experiencing
any of these:
 It might really mean:
Declining net profit
over a period of time
  • You’re not getting enough of the available cases in your geographical area
  • No strategy or direction
  • You lack visibility into resource load balancing or have siloed teams which  are not driving operational consistency
  • You’re not operating the firm as a business
  • Poor partner meetings – lacking the insight to help inform decisions
  • Lack of consistent recurring partner meetings
Declining returns on partner equity
  • Operations have increased while the firm is closing fewer cases
  • Your outdated software is costing more to maintain and upgrade, and it lacks current functionality found commonly in businesses today
  • It is not efficient to process clients
  • Lack of operational processes and controls
  • Your leadership team and management are reactive vs. proactive
High staff turnover
  • Your team is frustrated because workflows and workarounds prevent them from being successful
  • You have a team of clock-watchers
  • They feel hopeless, frustrated, and not heard
  • Low pay
  • Poor culture
Higher Client dissatisfaction
  • Your systems and process cannot keep up with the level of interaction your clients want or expect from your firm
  • Your response is slow due to process inefficiencies
  • You have no way to clearly separate high-value cases
Lack of visibility of caseloads
  • You do not have data reporting to indicate how quickly you are resolving cases
  • At any given time, you do not know what the statuses are of the cases you are actively working (A good read -What is Case Management Software?)
Lack of insight into media channel success
  • You cannot really see how marketing results in changes in intake or case quality
  • You cannot pinpoint where your clients are coming from
  • It is difficult to measure the ROI of your marketing channels

How Good Leaders Impact Change

Partners often fall back to the “professional partnership culture,” or a “don’t rock the boat” mentality. The problems pile on slowly, and often without notice.
I’ve found that this is often driven by the “I am not a spreadsheet kind of firm; I practice law” kind of mentality. This often further perpetuates the resistance to change.

The truth is, even good firms sometimes fail. Often times, what is hindering the growth is perpetuating the decline. More than likely, decisions are limited by the pocketbook. That is a band-aid approach to moving the firm’s technology forward.

And, let’s face it: leading change is hard. Regardless of who you are, or what you are changing, without the right approach, leading transformational change can often fail before you start. This is especially true for law firm executive leadership who have the shared burden of managing their cases along with driving the necessary change.

As a good leader, your actions, decisions, and influence provide cues to your team about what matters most. To help initiate legal change management in your law firm, I recommend adhering to these three principles:

Be the Change

Leading change starts first with the executive leadership buy-in. Coach and inform your existing leaders of the reason for the change and the expected outcomes. Be clear that leading change starts with at the top.
Try to connect the story for the change into something that you have found limiting with the current method.

Make it Meaningful

Check the ego at the door. Each leader should share stories of how the previous method hindered them… how hard it was to do something manually, all the workarounds they had to manage, or the errors they had to fix. Connect the story to the initiated change, and then once again connect it back to the reason for the change and why it is needed now. GAIN TRUST!

Empower the Team

The key to any change is to make it personal. Any change must relate back to your team in a personal way. By engaging them in this personal way, you draw your team in. You make it personal not only for the reason you want but you also make it what they want. This increases the motivation of the entire team to embrace the change and ensure a successful transformation.

If you don’t work to make a connection to the need, then the credibility is lost — and that is when fear creeps in.
Some of the reasons I have heard about why lawyers resist change are listed below with some interesting insight gained from Dean Sonderegger’s article Lawyers and Transformational Tech: Overcoming the Knowledge Gap on Above the Law:

  • Low trust
  • Change in status quo — lack rank, seniority, not being consulted
  • Change in workflows process
  • Lack of competence — IT, staff, technical skills
  • Lack of communications — culture does not reward innovation
  • Costs, lack of ability to measure ROI, and justify investment
  • Lack of technology strategy
  • Misunderstandings about the need for change, lack of awareness and understanding of the competitive landscape, and what technology is available
  • Lack of bandwidth — exhaustion, feel currently overworked and pervasive mentality of “how will this make things better.” (Read more about how to measure productivity in your law firm)

In order to be a transformational law firm, you need to start thinking about the reasons behind the resistance to technology in the first place and develop an approach to bridge the gap. Instead of resisting change, be a resource of transformative change, make a connection to the reason you need the change, and empower your team to understand why it’s important.

The results of being a transformational law firm might just surprise you in terms of profits, improved culture, and best of all, satisfied clients who will refer business to you. Looking for other supporting insight related to choosing legal software consider this article on six questions to ask before buying case management software.

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