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LegalJune 23, 2020

Legal ops accelerate: Change management is a constant in legal ops

On May 19th, Wolters Kluwer’s ELM Solutions continued our Legal Ops ACCELERATE webinar series with Change Management: Optimizing Your Legal Technology Investment. The session was hosted by Nathan Cemenska, our Director of Legal Operations and Industry Insights, with guest expert Kimberly Williams, Director of Global Legal Solutions at Citi. Nathan started by talking about the importance of effective change management to legal organizations, and Kimberly offered insights about change management strategies that can help legal ops professionals achieve their goals.

A significant part of legal operations 

Surveys have shown that most legal ops directors agree that their job is “primarily change management.” However, most do not believe that their law departments are actually very good at it. For many departments, it is typical not to have standardized processes for change management and for it not to be a fundamental part of the organization’s culture. This leads to circumstances where big changes might be occurring, particularly around technology, but without good communication to users or a firm understanding of what legal department staff members need or feel comfortable with. 

The legal industry is not alone, though. No industry excels at change management, which is why the failure rate for organizational change projects, according to the Harvard Business Review, is between 60 and 70 percent. But, while most organizations have not gotten there yet, there are examples of success. Although they are a small minority, there are 5.7% of law departments that rate themselves as good at change management. We can all learn from them. 

Taking the right approach 

Misalignment among stakeholders is one of the common pitfalls that legal departments should address when managing change. Many legal ops initiatives involve HR, finance, and others in addition to the company’s community of legal staff. Often, these various constituencies will have different ideas about the scope and purpose of a project. Kimberly believes that we sometimes get “too far out over our skis” on conceiving the implementation without considering the benefits to, or what we ask of, end users. We need to take a cue from successful organizations and get buy-in from all stakeholders at the start and be sure to maintain it over time. 

It’s also important to consider the incentives for everyone involved and be aware that both positive and negative incentives can be appropriate and helpful. One example of a negative incentive is a periodic email from the GC listing the names of those attorneys whose matters have not met some agreed-upon benchmark. Being called out in this way is certainly motivating. 

However, positive incentives should be a substantial part of change management strategies, as well. It is also motivating when staff members feel like they have a voice in the process. Conducting a survey is a great way to find out what people value while giving them a sense of having contributed to the decision-making. Sometimes what you learn may be in line with your plans and not affect the deliverable but could inform your communication or training. Aligning the effort with what motivates the people affected by it makes you a trusted partner and contributes to the initiative’s success. 

More to learn

Nathan and Kim’s discussion featured much more information about setting priorities, overcoming skepticism, and how the prevalence of working from home in response to the pandemic can be seen as an opportunity for change management professionals. View Legal Ops Accelerate page for more.

Nathan Cemenska
Director of Legal Operations and Industry Insights

Nathan Cemenska, JD/MBA, is the Director of Legal Operations and Industry Insights at Wolters Kluwer's ELM Solutions.

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