Adam Hembury address some of the more practical challenges that he’s encountered across the legal sector when it comes to actually delivering change and realising business benefits.

 

This is the third blog in a series looking at change and transformation within law firms. The legal sector is particularly unique, and on the precipice of significant change. There is a genuine interest across the sector, yet the reality is that high levels of profitability and relatively low client demand for transformational change means that whilst there is lots of activity, delivering meaningful change is a tough challenge. 

Previous blogs have looked at ‘3 Reasons Why Law Firms Need to Invest in Change’ and ‘Key Transformation Challenges Facing Law Firms’. Here, I will address some of the more practical challenges that I have encountered across the legal sector when it comes to actually delivering change and realising business benefits.

 

Priorities and decision making

There is an historic tendency within law firm partnerships for the support functions to be a little subservient and to simply do as they are requested. If a partner insists on wanting a new piece of technology, or the Managing Partner asks for a review of Knowledge Management, there is a danger that work commences without much further clarification. This tendency leads to an overload of projects and initiatives, often poorly scoped, and with little chance of success. In this environment, the only things that actually get done are the initiatives that are the pet projects of the most senior people.

To counter these challenges requires a robust Portfolio Board accountable to the Executive for identifying, prioritising and allocating resources, and assuring delivery. Whilst these are well established across other industries (e.g. financial services), they do not exist in many legal firms or are not robust enough. The essential success criteria for these Portfolio Boards include executive membership, clear mandate and visible reporting, a well-defined business strategy, along with strong sponsorship by the leadership otherwise it will be circumvented and rapidly become ineffective.
 

Change governance

There is an historic tendency within law firm partnerships for the support functions to be a little subservient and to simply do as they are requested. If a partner insists on wanting a new piece of technology, or the Managing Partner asks for a review of Knowledge Management, there is a danger that work commences without much further clarification. This tendency leads to an overload of projects and initiatives, often poorly scoped, and with little chance of success. In this environment, the only things that actually get done are the initiatives that are the pet projects of the most senior people.

To counter these challenges requires a robust Portfolio Board accountable to the Executive for identifying, prioritising and allocating resources, and assuring delivery. Whilst these are well established across other industries (e.g. financial services), they do not exist in many legal firms or are not robust enough. The essential success criteria for these Portfolio Boards include executive membership, clear mandate and visible reporting, a well-defined business strategy, along with strong sponsorship by the leadership otherwise it will be circumvented and rapidly become ineffective.
 

Expertise

Law firms can be a little too reliant on trusted, long standing personnel who have been promoted through the ranks. This definitely ensures in-depth knowledge of the firm and the issues, but can also severely hamper effective change delivery. Experienced people from outside the firm, either in permanent, interim, or consulting roles, bring both leading edge technical expertise, as well as best practice and a fresh perspective, required to identify the challenges and to find the momentum and energy to manage the end-to-end change approach.  
 

Stakeholder engagement and buy-in

For any business change to deliver a tangible benefit, business leaders must fully own the challenge, be engaged as decision makers throughout, and be accountable for delivery of the business benefits. We all know this, although with the nature of lawyers and the partnership model, this is every bit as tricky in the legal sector as elsewhere. Engagement is absolutely critical, as law firms do not operate top-down, rather every partner has a level of autonomy, and engagement is often very bottom-up, helping individuals and teams find a reason to adopt and champion the new ways of working. Sounds a painfully slow process, and it can be, although once you demonstrate success and create some advocates, momentum can start to build. There is no ‘quick-fix’ in this area, and requires resilience, creativity and persistence.
 

Momentum

Much of the above is about frontloading the change initiatives to give them the best chance of success, but maintaining momentum is the only way to ensure complete implementation. It is important that those leading the change remain involved after implementation to support firm-wide adoption, and this could include:
 

  • Ongoing training and development projects
  • Subtle nudge theory to accelerate adoption (making legacy systems or processes harder to access or perform)
  • PR and communication, or revised marketing about the firm after change
  • A visible Innovation Programme to continue driving implementation, showcasing the benefits to clients and employees alike.


Change and transformation in the legal sector isn’t the same as in other industries, it requires specialist knowledge and often a light touch, bearing in mind the sensitivities of compliance in law, and the subtlety of the partnership model. But, like other sectors, the world of work is changing, and both lawyers and clients will ultimately want to associate themselves with a firm that is forward thinking and happy to challenge the conventional ways of working. Adapting to this doesn’t just have to be about survival – it can be about leading the way too. 


If you’d like to find out how Hydrogen Group and I are helping law firms to understand and implement change, please get in touch with me.

About the author

 

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Adam Hembury

Transformation & Innovation Director,

He has spent the last four years delivering innovation and transformation to two leading law firms, including: implementation of a new global strategy; digital strategy and technology innovation; introduction and adoption of new ways of working including legal technology, legal project management, knowledge management, resourcing and a legal service centre; data analytics; innovation and new value creation; knowledge management; setting up a PMO to drive the disciplines of decision making and prioritisation.