Every law firm in the world has one thing in common: they are constantly changing. Exchanges of ideas, decision making, and resulting actions taken to drive a law firm’s daily operations continually change its composition. There is also an unprecedented amount of change in the legal market being driven by factors outside the ‘four walls’ of the firm. For example, there will be no magic wand that stops technology from progressing, clients will not stop wanting greater value from their legal providers and law firms will not be excluded from generational change issues. No matter how hard an individual tries to resist change, no matter how committed a firm is to do things the way it has always done them, the fact is, change cannot be avoided.
Why is change difficult? There are primarily two reasons:
- it has a large impact on people; and
- it is often poorly managed.
Every single change that occurs affects an individual in the firm. Change involves shifting from the known to the unknown. It often involves moving out of one’s comfort zone or doing something one or more people do not want to do. The natural reaction to this is to resist and resistance can be very damaging. It often results in disengaged employees, financial loss and failure to achieve strategic objectives.
As a management consultant to law firms, I am often exposed to major strategies which are failing and projects which require urgent assistance. A myriad of reasons is generally offered as to why objectives aren’t achieved. The reality, however, is all too common – poorly executed strategy and projects resulting out of a stark inability to manage change.
Central to what will differentiate successful firms in the future is that they ‘get’ change management, particularly as it applies in a legal environment.
The following six ‘change tips’ will help you implement projects, deliver your strategy, and most importantly, ensure your firm thrives in this rapidly changing legal market:
- Motivating your people for change – people must be ready for change as change involves a shift from the known to the unknown. They must be aware of the need for change and be informed of your firms desired outcomes. Energy will be invested if they expect the change will succeed. They must clearly recognise that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and support from key people within your firm.
- Change must be led – change within law firms may well upset the balance of power and result in power contests. You must have the full support of senior people within your firm. Key stakeholders must be identified and their support obtained. If a change agent is a poor leader or not respected, it is unlikely the change will be taken seriously. Managing change isn’t enough – you have to lead it.
- Communicate!! – this is vital to the success of the change initiative. What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your communication needs to inform and encourage feedback at a firm and individual level. It should track the progress, success and return on investment of the change initiative. Regular communication will assist firm leaders deliver the change message effectively. The more communication the better… but it must be relevant.
- A well-defined change vision is critical – there must be a truly clear vision of what the firm will become as a result of the change. It needs to be compelling, targeted and flexible. If senior managers and partners cannot agree on what the change should look like, then it will likely fail. A clear vision will assist your people to understand why you’re asking them to do something often outside their comfort zone. When they see for themselves what you’re trying to achieve, then the directives they’re given tend to make more sense and they are less likely to resist.
- Resistance to change will happen, so plan for it – You will almost certainly encounter some form of resistance. Put in place the structure for change and continually check for barriers to it. By removing obstacles, people will be empowered to execute your vision and contribute to change initiative success.
- Maintain the momentum – once changes are underway, your firm needs to ensure all efforts are made to maintain momentum and commitment for implementation. Your people will require new skills and knowledge to carry out the change and to manage the change in the long term. The success or failure of the change initiative should be measured by whether the vision has been realised within the time frame outlined. Give your firm a taste of victory early in the change process. Allow for a few ‘quick wins’. It will help prevent critics from spoiling your progress.
These are some of the themes of Legal Change Management (LCM) – an organised approach to continually developing, managing and ingraining change and improvements in the business of law. Whether you are a managing partner, law firm executive, manager, or someone who has responsibility for managing a team or projects, understanding Legal Change Management principles will help you achieve significantly better results in the strategy and projects you execute by appropriately managing the change that is created. You will generate a greater return on investment (ROI), higher collaboration and engagement with your team and better budget control.
About the Author:
Andrew Price, Director, Inspire Mgt
For 20 years Andrew has been working within professional services both as a lawyer, law firm CEO/COO, Head of Legal and legal management consultant helping law firms and in house legal teams develop and implement strategy, win new business, become more efficient and more profitable and most importantly in the current legal market, CHANGE.
Andrew is Australia’s first Foundation Level Accredited Change Manager with the Change Management Institute. He has presented around the world on law firm strategy and execution, change management in law and how law firms can deal with the rapidly changing legal market.