How to ensure your firm’s tech roll outs are a lasting success
Firms must implement a rigorous change management campaign to encourage lawyers to adopt new technology, writes 3Kites’ Melanie Farquharson
You may have the newest and cleverest systems in the world, but they will not deliver any value to the organisation if your people don’t use them.
We have seen so many situations where applications have been rolled out in professional firms, often at great expense and after a great deal of effort, and yet a year or two later very few people are using them. It’s a great shame.
There are some systems that users almost can’t avoid – such as the document management system and the practice management/billing system. Even then we often find that users will have only adopted a small part of the available functionality. Or, if firms’ cultures dictate that they take an ‘encouraging’, softly softly approach to IT rollouts rather than switching off the old way of working and mandating usage, many lawyers will choose not to engage with new products at all if they can help it. Where use of systems may be more voluntary, including knowledge systems, CRMs, intranets, drafting tools, transaction management tools… the list goes on … it is not surprising that usage figures are disappointing.
Often the problem is that the change management aspects of the implementation have not been considered or given sufficient emphasis. Those who have been deeply involved in a software project may think that it will be enough to send an email telling the world that the new system is available (possibly attaching a short user guide or a link to an e-learning module). But that email may land in inboxes which are already full of important and urgent messages. Some people will plan to look at it later when they’ve got time to familiarise themselves with the new tool (but most will fail to do so), some will ignore it on principle, others won’t even notice it. Even if it was sent from the managing partner’s email account.
Getting high levels of adoption for ‘voluntary’ or elective applications is difficult. It requires a carefully thought-through campaign. Here are some tips we have picked up:
- First, the message has to be based on what’s in it for them (where the ‘them’ is usually lawyers). It can’t just be bland statements about making them more efficient – they probably think they’re pretty efficient already. Ideally it should focus on key pain points which the new system can resolve, based on real life situations that you know occur regularly.
- The message has to be based around business processes, not button pressing. If it’s clear why the user would want to perform a particular function, they are much more likely to remember it.
- In an ideal world, it should be colleagues with whom the users are familiar who tell them about new systems. That way there is likely to be more trust in the message and the users will feel more able to ask follow-up questions, either immediately or at a later date. When it comes to knowledge-related systems, professional support lawyers can be brilliant advocates if they have bought into the idea.
- There is great power in team meetings for communicating about new things. People are meeting anyway, so you are not having to put something extra in their diaries and it is usually an environment where people feel free to ask questions. If the message about a new system has the (even tacit) endorsement of a team leader or practice head who is chairing the meeting, this will also help. If you can generate the feeling that this new thing is what everybody’s talking about (in a good way) that will give you real momentum.
- Your change management professionals might advocate for spending some time analysing the stakeholders involved in the system roll out to examine who might be key ambassadors for the system and who might be the potential naysayers or blockers. Getting both of these groups onside to promote the system with you at the (virtual) watercooler may be important.
- Relying on classroom training to get users familiar with new systems (certainly the voluntary ones) is less and less effective. Professionals often won’t spare the time even if it’s only 30 minutes. If they sign up for the course, there’s still a good chance something more urgent will crop up and they’ll drop out. (There’s a lot more to be said about effective technology training generally, but we will save that for another article).
- Short – really short, 3 minutes max – e-learning modules or videos may be useful (depending on the complexity of the product) as part of a wider campaign. These, and one-page quick reference guides, are useful but not sufficient. And the one-pager needs to be really clear and simple, not the kind of dense text which puts people off from the start.
- Messages with ‘tips and tricks’ can provide good reinforcement, depending on the type of system. These particularly need to pick up on any bugs or issues users have encountered – otherwise those become the reason never to touch the system again.
- If you have the resource, 10-15 minute one-to-one sessions with users to show them the new tool may be a great approach. Again, these are not enough on their own. You’ll probably need to go back to each user one or two more times to see how they are getting on and give them some more tips.
- Remembering the rule of thumb that a human (even a lawyer!) needs to be told a new piece of information seven times before they will take it in and that it can take up to two months to form a new habit, repetition (in a variety of formats) is key to getting a system adopted as ‘business as usual’.
There isn’t an easy answer, but what is clear is that simply launching a new tool on an unsuspecting user base is unlikely to result in widespread adoption. So if you want to realise the ROI, you really have to work at it.
Melanie Farquharson is a director of 3Kites. This is the 16th article in the series Navigating Legaltech
About 3Kites and Kemp IT Law
3Kites is an independent consultancy, which is to say that we have no ties or arrangements with any suppliers so that we can provide our clients with unfettered advice. We have been operating since 2006 and our consultants include former law firm partners (one a managing partner), a GC, two law firm IT Directors and an owner of a practice management company. This blend of skills and experience puts us in a unique position when providing advice on IT strategy, fractional IT management, knowledge management, product selections, process review (including the legal process) and more besides. 3Kites often works closely with Kemp IT Law (KITL), a boutique law firm offering its clients advice on IT services and related areas such as GDPR. Where relevant (eg when discussing cloud computing in a future article) this column may include content from the team at KITL to provide readers with a broader perspective including any regulatory considerations.