Obstacles to Change
These are interesting times for the legal profession. Innovation and change are the watch words, and both law firms and law departments are struggling to do more with less, find new ways to deliver services, and generally trying to improve. Many law departments will undertake some change, and launch all manner of initiatives with the hope of increasing efficiency or improving overall performance, and but for some notable exceptions, most will fail.
Change is difficult, and even more so for the legal profession. Why do so many innovation initiatives fail? What follows is a litany of some of the structural impediments to success, or to rephrase it, what are the obstacles you need to be aware of so that your “initiative”, whether it is knowledge management, process improvement or anything else, is successful.
Change and innovation are frequently framed as initiatives. They need to become the normal way of doing business. The risk is that they are perceived as another "flavor of the month” and a “this too shall pass” moment.
Key players need to have the time to focus on innovation, if they are busy, the innovation will take a back seat. Senior attorneys, including the General Counsel and practice group leaders, need to “walk the talk,” junior attorneys also have to be onboard.
The roll out of the initiative to the department must be effective, with enough time spent explaining the program, adequate training when appropriate, and rewards and/or recognition for successful compliance. The innovation champions have to be empowered, individual contributors need to understand their rolls, and a sense of teamwork and collaboration must be fostered.
The innovation champions must provide the department a compelling vision or reason for the initiative. They have to “sell it.” On the other hand a promising and necessary initiative can be doomed by analysis paralysis, by sponsor teams that don’t meet frequently enough, and by lack of training, each of which can foster low morale and cynicism.
Any overemphasis on cost cutting, ambiguous stages for evaluating progress, or the lack of a strategy for sustaining the effort will doom any program.
Any law department initiative that relies on an overemphasis on structures, protocols, and processes, an over-reliance on technology or unrealistic time frames is guaranteed to fail.
Failure to insure adequate funding, failure to plan for scaling the initiative up, no provision in place to get timely feedback, and lack of a reward or recognition program also foreshadow a grim end to the program.
While the specific obstacles to implementing change can be as varied as the culture of the specific law department, consideration of the some of the items listed above before you undertake your next substantive initiative could be the difference between success and failure.
Giuliano Chicco is an attorney, knowledge manager and successful change agent, including stints at both GE and J&J. He is also Vice-President for Communication for the New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association and can be contacted at Giuliano.Chicco@acc-njcca.org.