Making Change Happen in Law Firms

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On Tuesday 14th June, we were delighted to host the fourth in our series of events on change management. The panel comprised some of the profession’s genuine thought leaders, considering the issues through a variety of lenses spanning large scale global strategic change, service design and innovation, project management and behavioural change:

  • Cathy Mattis, Head of Legal Project Management, UK/US & EMEA, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Fiona Rice, Executive Coach & Consultant, Rice Consultancy
  • Mark Turner, Independent Consultant to the Legal Profession
  • Dan Wright, Service Innovation Partner, Osborne Clarke

Building on the findings of our recent white paper - Changing at Client Speed: What’s Stopping Law Firms? (access here ), we asked the panel the key question:

"What is the best way to effect the change that is needed?"

The three strongest themes emerging from this discussion were: using the voice of the client, getting the messaging right and implementing incremental change.

1. Using the voice of the client

While many of the challenges around change are driven by clients, clients can also be used as ‘agents for change’. Armed with the commercial justification of satisfying your client, you can create change within a law firm with good cause. As law firms need to adapt to the ever-evolving world, using the client is a powerful way to bring about the required change to delight them and keep ahead of the pack.

The panel emphasised the need for lawyers to actually put themselves into clients’ shoes, and to go beyond routine client relationship reviews and dig deeper to understand client’s changing requirements.

Be aware, however, that different clients (and indeed different stakeholders within a single client) may give the firm several different requirements. It will be important to make sure that client research is conducted up front to work out which of these needs is most important. Which are common themes and which are client specific? How important and urgent is it for the client that the firm meets this requirement.

The panel stressed the importance of identifying and communicating these client pain-points. The goal should be to make their lives easier and make them look good. The return on the time invested doing this can be significant.

One of the clearest examples given was a law firm that spent time having really open discussions with one of the large banks – the firm put in place project managers to get clarity on what they needed and they also offered training for the client. They also openly collaborated with other panel firms to deliver exactly what the client wanted. As a result, the panel spend going to this firm is “disproportionately high”.

2. Getting the messaging right

To answer the challenges of change, the panelists all stressed the need to get the messaging right. Communication, both internally and externally, will be vital in any form of change management. In this context, top-down leadership is very important.

Any change should be framed positively – as an opportunity not a threat. The right messaging will generally be a careful mix of emotional appeal, backed up with solid evidence of success. Case studies can be very effective, especially if you can clearly demonstrate that a real difference that was made.

As discussed earlier, the panelists made it clear that weaving the voice of the client into these communications was also vital, and specific phrases or words used by clients can be particularly powerful to bring about firm-wide support for change.

3. Step by step

There was a general view that taking an incremental approach to change management in law firms was much more likely to be successful than a “big bang” approach. There is a level of artistry required to make change simple – but even the most revolutionary of changes can be broken down into small steps.

You need to ask yourself: what is stopping you? What’s the barrier? Sometimes, you just need to start doing. Amongst the panelists, there was a sense that real innovators will just start - ask for forgiveness, don’t beg for permission.

The final question was whether there are effective ways to mitigate the fear of change. Again, this may be a case of implementing a clear and iterative process consisting of several small projects. Fears will dissipate – and confidence will increase - once a number of small projects have paid off. This will facilitate buy-in across the firm.

Messaging can reinforce that changes are not being made for the sake of it but for business critical purposes with the ultimate goal of increasing long-term prosperity, and are ultimately driven by, and in the service of, the client.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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