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5 tips for getting lawyer buy-in on new technology adoption

To gain an edge in the marketplace, forward-thinking law firms must update their technology regularly as part of their business plans. The advantages are twofold: They’ll be more efficient, and they’ll be more competitive since effective technology is a selling point for clients, who often demand that their outside firms are up to date. In a recent survey by Wolters Kluwer, 70% of companies reported asking what technologies a law firm uses, and 97% plan to do so by 2025.

So how do enterprising firms convince their lawyers to adopt new technology?

As seasoned law firm IT professionals know, you can’t simply install new software on a lawyer’s computer and say, “Use it.” According to studies of lawyer traits by Larry Richard, an expert on the psychology of lawyer behavior, tactics that might persuade or inspire the average professional aren’t as effective with lawyers.

Richard assessed more than 1,000 U.S. lawyers using the Caliper Profile, which scores participants on 18 common personality traits. The study found that lawyers think of themselves as masters of their own destiny, and they don’t embrace change when they feel it’s been imposed on them. Lawyers also score quite low in terms of resilience, meaning that if a new technology does not work as advertised on the first try, it’s hard to convince them to give change another try.

Ensuring that lawyers adopt new firm technology requires more than a plug-and-play approach. Instead, it often requires something akin to a cultural revolution, and almost always involves a lot of time and personalized attention. The success or failure of organizational technology adoption often depends on the team driving the initiative being cognizant of, and sensitive to, the needs and preferences of the people who will be using the new tools.

Below are some important tips for embarking on a change management campaign to introduce new technology to a law firm or team of lawyers.

1. Do your homework

A project’s launch sets the tone, so those managing a tech rollout should begin by learning what the impacted group does, and how they do it. In the case of a law firm or large practice group, the IT department doesn’t have to understand every facet of the lawyers’ practice, but they should possess more than a passing acquaintance with how the lawyers interact with their computers and software. The project managers should:

  • Interview lawyers and key firm personnel to get an objective understanding of what lawyers do each day and how they currently accomplish their work.
  • Survey the impacted groups to understand their pain points and how they’d like to work differently.
  • Engage with internal resources, such as the IT support desk, to analyze tickets and gain insights into the technology challenges firm lawyers most often face. During this stage, project managers may also learn how often, and to what extent, the firm’s IT professionals have had to contend with a phenomenon common to new technology implementations — specifically, that even users who are unhappy with a legacy system can still be skeptical of and resistant to change. These resisters have adapted to their existing flawed system by figuring out how to work within it, and they’ll need to be sold on the new vision. (However, they aren’t the only ones who’ll need selling.)

2. Find your champion (Hint: It’s often a rainmaker)

A successful tech project needs a good in-house champion to advance the project and bring the resisters along. How can you find the right person to champion change? As you talk to work groups, look for someone who seems to be galvanized by the change, or who speaks up when discussing the challenges that you’re seeking to solve.

In law firms, rainmakers can be a good bet: They are born salespeople, and typically don’t give up when confronted with a skeptical audience. You likely won’t get a lot of their time — they have highly demanding jobs, after all — but they’re hardwired to persuade. Even if they aren’t completely on board with the project, their instinct to win over the reluctant may well kick in.

Keep in mind that they’re also likely to challenge the new tool. If something doesn’t work exactly as it should, they’ll figure out how to accomplish their tasks and will share that knowledge.

3. Make it personal

Choosing the right champion sets the stage for change, but to convince the most resistant skeptics, you’ll need to get personal.

Take the time for one-on-one sessions. Listen to each individual’s concerns and review their recent help desk tickets (if available) to see where they’ve struggled in the past. Once you understand their concerns, explain how the new technology will alleviate that specific pain point and automate manual tasks that would otherwise take hours — instead of dwelling on how the new technology will help the firm or department work better as a group, save money, or any other collective goal.

Be prepared for questions, as lawyers are trained to probe. As you start to paint a picture of the future state, remember to be transparent — and make sure your enthusiasm for the new technology doesn’t lead you to over-promise what the new tool can do. Lawyers are trained to be skeptical, so if the new tool doesn’t do what you’ve promised, you’ll not only lose your credibility but also risk your new users discarding the tool in frustration.

Don’t limit your one-on-ones to lawyers, though. Talk to the team members across the firm who work with them. These team members can often provide helpful insights into what works and what doesn’t with the current systems. They often have a more universal view of firm pain points since their job requires them to interact with multiple team members across a variety of practices.

4. Train teams separately

Your stakeholders are on board. Implementation is underway. Now it’s time to teach the audience how to make the most of the new tool. And, like the rest of the project, training requires a deep dive into user groups, what they do, how workflows will change, and how to communicate the change.

Who gets the training? The obvious answer is “everyone,” but a savvy project manager will separate the firm into like groups. Given the low resilience score identified among lawyers in Larry Richard’s study, it’s important to plan for significant time to be spent training this group.

To ensure that the lawyers feel comfortable asking questions, deliver their training one-on-one or in small lawyers-only group sessions. Lawyers may be hesitant to speak up if help desk staff, with all their technical expertise, are sitting in the room. Or they may tune out if the conversation turns too technical.

It’s also imperative that your help desk and support teams receive detailed training. They will be the first line of contact for the lawyers as they begin to explore the new tool, and if they aren’t well-prepared, the lawyers are likely to become frustrated and abandon the new technology.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Lawyers don’t like surprises. They want to know what’s going on, appreciate clarity, and guard their time — so developing a strong communications plan is critical to successful technology adoption.

Partner with your communications team to use employee newsletters, intranet sites, town hall meetings, and other internal channels to provide updates. Ask your champions to regularly share tips and tricks, process improvements, best practices, and lessons learned. And gather feedback from your users about their experiences so you can uncover FAQs and other barriers to adoption so you can address them head-on.

Although this may sound like a lot of work, there’s a common thread in these strategies: communication and accuracy. With advance preparation, personalized support, and careful communication throughout the course of the project, IT personnel, operational leadership, and lawyers can avoid the misunderstandings and problems that so often plague new technology adoption.

For related insights, review the highlights from a 2022 ILTACON session on technology change management at law firms.