For years, lawyers have been pegged as change-averse, tradition-bound, and slow to accept new technologies and developments. And for years, we’ve talked about how lawyers should become more agile and adaptable so that we can deal with the considerable shifts in legal technology.
All the while, legal tech has flourished. But have lawyers kept up?
What We’ve Been Doing to Manage Change Hasn’t Worked
In its 2019 Tech Survey, the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) asked law firms to list the top three technology issues or annoyances they face. Change management represented three of the top four answers. “Users’ acceptance of change” emerged as the biggest problem for most firms, followed closely by “keeping up with new versions of software” and “managing expectations (users and management)” around change.
Nor is change management a new concern for law firms. ILTA observed that “Going back for decades, [it] can’t remember a year where ‘user[s’] acceptance of change’ wasn’t near the top of the list” of major technology issues for law firms. Clearly, what we’ve been doing as a profession hasn’t worked to change our minds about change.
We’ve all heard the saying (penned not by Albert Einstein, but by author Rita Mae Brown): “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It’s time for lawyers to try something new around change management — throwing in the towel or taking a pass won’t do it.
Change Is a Skill Lawyers Can — and Do — Learn
To be clear, I believe that lawyers are entirely capable of change. The organization I lead creates a publication every year titled “The Changing Lawyer,” which celebrates the ways lawyers drive change. We consistently highlight law firms that are making great strides in technology and the delivery of legal services. I am confident that lawyers are better at it than people think — and, more importantly, better than we ourselves think.
Case in point: The law itself changes all the time, and lawyers readily adapt. We adjust our arguments, our precedents and our way of thinking to embrace the new reality of what the law is or what it means.
Even before we started practicing, every one of us who is now a lawyer learned how to be a lawyer. In the standard lexicon of law school, we learned to “think like a lawyer.” (It might be time to rethink this approach too. Some have suggested that lawyers instead need to learn to think like professional service providers, but the point remains that we’ve learned new ways of thinking.)
We just need to expand that change-positive mindset to the way we practice law, including updating our software, keeping pace with client expectations, and maintaining competitive efficiency by embracing new time-saving technologies.
Five Tips to Get Unstuck With Change
Change management is a skill that, like any other skill, can be learned. Here are pointers.
1. Stop saying lawyers can’t handle change. Whether it’s true that we’re change-resistant or not, saying it over and over isn’t helping anyone. Rather, we’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, focus on changes you’ve loved — think of a new car, a vacation to a new place, even a shiny new phone—and transfer that enthusiasm to the benefits of other positive changes.
2. Study the examples of lawyers who have mastered change. Look at how other lawyers and firms that embrace change have created competitive advantages for themselves, their firms and their clients.
3. Set aside time to practice using new technology. You dedicate time to researching the law and checking for updates to precedents. Give yourself time to master technological change. Perhaps explore a new software system, try a feature you’ve never used, or test-drive a smartphone productivity app.
4. Find support. Set up support for yourself by working with a coach or establishing an informal change-support group. Look into introducing two-way mentorship arrangements with younger employees, providing career wisdom in exchange for their support in embracing change.
5. Learn how to learn. Lawyers hate looking or feeling incompetent, which puts a serious damper on the acquisition of new skills. Yet learning how to learn may be the most important job skill any of us can have. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we need all the flexibility and adaptability we can get. Consciously seek out opportunities to pick up new skills, whether in the office or in your daily life, so you can practice climbing the learning curve.
So, how are you going to change the way you approach change in 2020?
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