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Change Management for In-House Lawyers: Navigating Beyond Legal Tech Tools

Continuous learning and adaptation are not just advantageous, they are essential.

This mantra becomes increasingly evident as legal professionals progress in their careers. While traditional sources of knowledge like books and other research outputs remain invaluable, it is not breaking news that transformative learning often happens through direct experience in handling complex problems and connecting seemingly unrelated dots together.

With this blog article, I wanted to share with you three main considerations that I have matured during my legal tech journey and hopefully inspire comments and further sharing from the community.

Part 1: The Rise of the Generalists.

Not a long time ago, when I was taking my first steps in the legal sector, I clearly remember how the legal industry praised hyper-specialisation above everything else. Luckily for some of us (me included), the rapid integration of digital technologies into legal tech and operations has shifted the paradigm towards valuing generalists. This category of professionals possesses a broad range of knowledge and skills across various areas, making them more adaptable and versatile in the face of new challenges. In this new era of legal practice, legal professionals, especially those working with digital technologies, must often navigate the intricacies of business development and change management – tasks that are renowned hot to manage within the traditionally conservative legal ecosystem.

My recent experiences, especially in-house, have immersed me in diverse project scenarios, with a significant focus on change management and legal tech implementation, where I facilitated the adoption of a machine-learning-based contract review platform, drafting a team clause playbook including essential Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) features. I was working in a team of six lawyers, most of them veterans of the firm with almost +15 Post-Qualified Experience and with a technical engineering background. What was the biggest challenge then? Explaining the technology? Streamlining the process? Analysing data? Not at all, the most difficult challenge was dealing with different stakeholders approaches and people’s expectations, inside and outside the team for final delivery.

Part 2: People before Tech.

Diversity of minds is what makes departments strive for excellence, but in my working environment that was not much of a problem at all: it was more a question of culture. As brilliantly described by Isabelle Parker’s contribution to the field: “Digital transformation is a continuous process, not a project with a beginning and an end, and sustaining the change requires a cultural reset”. The more difficult the target is, the more I strive to find a way to make it work, so I jumped in to deliver my contribution and do my best to initiate this cultural transformation. Such exposure led me to explore in depth the delicate balance between resistance to change and fostering innovation with in-house legal.

To illustrate my direct insights along this journey, let me explain to you the scenario you will probably deal with when implementing a legal tech tool in-house: a) time is your scarcest and most valuable resource; b) the billable hours model still reigns above everything else; c) the legal department is often exclusively perceived as a risk management or cost centre; d) the workload is almost unsustainable for everyone; and e) the business keep raising the bar of productivity and quality required especially when contract review is a key part of the day to day work.

Part 3: How to Drive Change.

Addressing and framing the problem here is complex and multifaceted. I have identified five main takeaways in my learning journey for how to optimise your chances to succeed:

1) Understand Your Team: before adopting legal tech tools, it is crucial to deeply understand your team's specific needs, including, if not before anything else, your colleagues' personas profile. In the same vein, a problem-first approach should be put at the centre of your way of working. As stressed by leading experts in the field such as Nicola Shaver we should ‘fall in love with the problem, not the solution’, particularly with legal tech. The first time I read her article on the topic I thought: ‘Finally, this is like music to my ears!’. This problem first approach involves a thorough examination of workflow issues using structured strategies like the 5 Whys Technique and Fishbone Analysis. I am a huge fan of experimenting with these techniques in the discovery phase. In practice, a key element of success in my first legal tech product implementation experience has been getting hands dirty with the 5 Whys Technique, sharing key questions with my in-house team. At the beginning of the project, I noticed a lot of enthusiasm which made me feel encouraged to push forward, however that is exactly the moment when you need to keep your focus. Sooner or later, at the exact moment when business levels will be raising up, clients are pushing, and deadlines feel hotter, there is going to be a higher chance that you will get a lot of rejections and your project might be left on the side. That is what happened to me between April and May after a strong start in January. Suggestion: do not take it personal. It is not about you. It is about how the team resonates and react to their stress levels. Be compassionate, pause, reframe and be back another time without imposing forced change. It is a long game, and patience wins.

2) Embrace Design Thinking in Legal Tech: Design thinking, which encompasses the phases of empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test, is becoming a critical process in change management within legal tech. This method, combined with legal technology, increases chances for long-term success. Although it has been promoted more in recent times, its recognition is still light years behind in respect of the whole discussion around legal tech. As mentioned in one of my interviews with Astrid Kohlmeier, worldwide legal design expert: ‘legal tech means nothing without legal design’. Take a read yourself to know more, with a particular focus on Return of Investment (ROI).

3) Purpose and Vision: It is pivotal to shed light in defining and constantly reinforcing your team's purpose and vision. Prioritise managing people's expectations over technology and keep an empathy journey map as your guide. Unnecessary do you think? You are going to rely on it, later, that is almost guaranteed.

4) Be Reliable: Focus on offering consistent support to your team, aiming for long-term innovation rather than short-term gains. Create a supportive safe environment where concerns can be expressed freely. Building collaborative relationships and engaging with internal ambassadors is more effective than forcing change. This does not imply to be overactive to your clients or team requests, but more like focusing on active listening and keeping challenging assumptions. User-centricity is everything.

5) Playing is Allowed: Incorporate roleplay exercises and gamification in internal sessions to help team members, from junior staff to directors, experience both innovator and traditional roles in simulated scenarios. Gamification techniques facilitate a more balanced and objective perspective within the team. Have you ever heard about ‘Player-Centered Design’? I am quite sure we are all going to hear a lot more about this topic soon in the legal and compliance industry, especially when UX/UI design will be better recognised as a driving force for successful legal tech products.

In the end, there is no magic formula for successful change management in legal tech. The key is to avoid assumptions, actively seek feedback and collaboration, and maintain a practical down-to-earth approach. Recognising failure as part of the learning process is vital, but it is always better to fail responsibly. This might backfire you and could diminish your stakeholders' support for future initiatives.

How to wrap it up? Maintaining a positive, can-do attitude is perhaps the most crucial rule.

Legal Technologist, Innovator and Podcaster - I build relationships to foster innovation in legal tech.



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