How change management has shifted from being a blocker to a key enabler for law firms today

The recent transition to remote working has been relatively pain free for some law firms, and perhaps a little rockier for others. While IT teams have been busy getting everyone set up from their home offices (or dining room table), senior management are continuing to tweak business continuity plans and look at cost saving measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis.

Over the last three weeks we have cited real-life examples showing the measures firms are taking to adjust, and highlighted the benefits of fully utilising the support function, not only for smooth provision of lawyer support, but also for the positive effect on maintaining client relationships and controlling costs.

What is evident is that firms have been forced to suddenly embrace something that many had resisted for some time – change, and for that matter, change on a massive scale.

Enforced change

Law firms are no different to other organisations in many ways, but they often admit to being “pretty bad” at change. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the principle remains - in a world where change is difficult, it must be forced through to be truly successful.  

As Tony Robbins says, “change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”  Some may argue that the pain of staying the same had eclipsed the pain of change, hence the large percent of law firms who had undertaken back office transformation projects in recent years.

For example, in our recent Legal Support Recruitment and Staffing Survey, we found that 68% of respondents confirm support services are changing, with firms exploring specialised groups, outsourcing and centralisation in low cost locations. Few would argue that an era of enforced change is upon us as firms now deal with lawyers and staff working remotely and dealing with various home working challenges. 

In our previous articles we have outlined the benefits of fully optimising support staff in a law firm, the best ways to do this using data and technology, and how these projects can have direct cost and efficiency savings not only for the firm, but for clients too.

These benefits have always been accessible, the return on investment has always been well evidenced and the working practice afterwards has always been preferable for clients. This was always key for transforming into a more efficient law firm. But resistance to change has often been the blocker.

A key enabler

From our various conversations with law firms, the single most often quoted reason for not implementing any short or long-term support projects - even though they almost universally agreed it was a better way of working - was “resistance to change”. Lawyers did not want to change their behaviors, or senior management assumed that on their behalf.  Regardless, projects often got shelved to avoid the subsequent battle with them (lawyers are often quite good at arguing their point of view!) so the status quo continued.

That blocker has now flipped to become an absolute key enabler. Nobody is sitting next to each other anymore, and lawyers still need easy access to support teams to function effectively and efficiently. Additionally, lawyers and staff are dealing with a litany of home challenges, and more work is happening off-hours or on weekends.  Clients still require high quality, speedy service from their law firms and the reality is that it will not happen without firm-wide technology adoption, and lawyers and support staff working more effectively together.

In the long term, law firms should be aiming to use data to assess and deliver the optimum support structure and create an ideal environment to deliver the support that lawyers need. In the short term, just like those IT teams focused on quickly getting first-time home workers up and running, there are quick wins to be made by ensuring the existing support function remains available and highly effective in supporting the lawyers. Both short and long-term plans remain critical because, just like 2008/09, we are about to enter a world where clients will be even more discerning than they were before about cost, while expecting the same customer service experience.

Industry Commentary

Sandie Craciun, Director at Konsept Services and experienced consultant comments:

“Evidence to push through change has indeed always existed in the majority of law firms.  When presented with the data and information, however, so many law firms and lawyers have considered themselves to be “different” to the data and provide reasons why the data doesn’t apply to them in simple terms.  This in itself is evidence of the resistance to change being spoken of.

We don’t believe law firms don’t want to change.  On the contrary, it is often just the pain threshold of getting to the change point and beyond which people don’t want to go through.  The current environment has proven that anything is possible and the old adage of “where there is a will there is a way” applies.  There is most certainly currently a “way” …. now is the time take advantage of the climate to harness the required “will” and make long-awaited structural breakthroughs to achieve truly innovative working practices.” 

Chris Ryan, Managing Director of HBR Consulting comments:

“They say “never let a crisis go to waste” – the current crisis we’re in is terrible, and one thing most law firms know for certain is that they can (and must) use this situation to embrace and drive meaningful change for their firm cultures and clients to come out of this stronger.”

“Law firms will need to ask and answer questions such as what impact will the pandemic have on client demand and how should we react? There will clearly be varying levels of changes in different sectors and practice areas, and law firms will need to be proactive and purposeful in their client interactions, thinking about implications and investments around talent, digital transformation, and service delivery.”

“We believe legal department clients are desiring flexibility from their law firms, and we are seeing firms respond in kind. However, we are also hearing clients say law firms aren’t differentiating enough.”

“The sense of urgency has been set for law firms, so whether a firm is implementing an automated workflow capability, investing in a collaboration site for a client, or reconsidering their service delivery model, those who have the right vision for change (why we’re doing and what we’re doing), will establish trusted leadership. If law firms encourage teams to consistently and thoughtfully communicate throughout the process, then we believe that they will successfully overcome any resistance to change.”