Solicitors Journal – ‘Ensuring technology is utilized’: a separate workstream

Jack Shepherd considers how to encourage lawyers to use the technology your firm has invested in

Your firm has spent money on a new tech tool. A firmwide email goes around telling you the tool is ready to use. You instantly delete it – you don’t have time to read emails. Perhaps a random shortcut appears on your desktop. It stays there, getting comfortable next to the recycling bin, but is certainly never clicked on. You wonder: “why are we spending so much money on tools nobody uses?”

This is a familiar narrative for many lawyers at all types of law firms. Technology that is bought, but not used, is not only expensive but also causes disillusionment among lawyers. Bogged down with everyday problems such as ‘why is my computer so slow’, and ‘I wish the office wifi was quicker’, it’s no wonder that people don’t feel it’s worth their time thinking of doing things differently.

Yet chief information officers, innovation leads, partners and management in law firms are increasingly wanting to drive change in their legal practice through the use of technology. But in the legal world, deploying or building a piece of technology isn’t enough to get usage out of it. This is a separate workstream, that requires resource, effort and expertise. Here are four questions you need to answer as part of this workstream:

What are the incentives?

I’m an iPhone user. The iPhone works well for me – I’ve got used to how I can take photos, send messages and check my work email. It would be very annoying to me if somebody forced me to swap out my iPhone for an Android phone: ‘what’s the point?.

This is a human consideration, and lawyers are also human. Current processes might be working well for lawyers. Many have done the same thing for years (sometimes decades) and continue to get glowing feedback in appraisals and reviews. So, what’s in it for them to change?

The issue is perhaps made even harder by classic lawyer personalities. Many are risk averse, perfectionists, skeptics and don’t like to admit weaknesses or knowledge gaps. Working practices are often driven by individual preferences, rather than defined processes. You have to really work to change lawyers.

Law firms usually fall into three camps, at this point. In the first camp, people immediately dismiss these concerns: ‘if you build it, they will come’. In the second camp, people are battled scarred from prior experiences. They see driving change as a cultural issue and admit defeat. But the third camp adopts an analytical approach and looks at ways to incentivize lawyers to want to change.

Business incentives

The best thing is to first look at business incentives. For example, clients may be challenging the time lawyers are spending on a specific process. Unless the process is changed, the law firm is losing money. This creates a business incentive to revisit that process, and possibly to adopt a piece of technology to improve efficiency.

This ultimately culminates in the best incentives – either ‘I’m taking your current tools away’ or ‘you must use this new tool’. The best thing is that these kinds of messages usually come from partners – universally respected and listened to by the very people that are likely to be using the tools. This is a great way to use lawyer personalities (in this case, deference and a sense of hierarchy) to your advantage.

Personal incentives

While I think my iPhone experience is acceptable, try me a little and I might realize I’m not as happy with it as I think I am. How do I feel when I scratch the screen? Do I like it when lots of other people’s WhatsApp pictures end up in my photo stream? What about when 20 percent of my storage capacity is taken up by the operating system?

Do your research properly and you can find deficiencies with how people currently work that cause pains at a personal level. If you identify these deficiencies, you can make people realize that actually, the way they currently work isn’t great after all. To go further, you can link these to impacts on their personal lives, and on an emotional level.

For example, in my experience, lawyers acknowledge deal signings and closings are generally stressful situations, but don’t think they can do anything about it. If you take a step back and understand what actually happens, it’s very easy to spot the culprits of all the stress.

For instance, there are a bunch of manual processes that are hard to do and easy to mess up, such as collecting individual signature pages from multiple parties and compiling them into a composite document. This process is directly responsible for people going home late, and not being able to sleep because they’re afraid of all the mistakes they don’t know they’ve made.

By showing you understand how things currently work, what pains arise, as well as the impact of these at a personal level, you can establish incentives.

How will I sell it to people?

The most popular way of communicating a tool to lawyers is to tell them a tool is available to use: ‘click here to access our new innovative tool, [name of tool]! ‘. This approach generally fails, and usually results in people deleting the email instantly. This is for three reasons.

First, this kind of email is talking about the tool instead of the incentives, as explained above. The tool is simply a means to an end, ie, unlocking those incentives and benefits. You need to lead with those incentives, not the tool.

Second, the email is vague and unclear. The marketer, Don Miller, espouses the ‘grunt test’: ‘Would a caveman be able to grunt exactly what it’s about?’. To pass this test, readers must be able to easily understand what you’re offering, how it’ll make their life better and what they need to do to use it. Using buzzwords such as ‘innovation’ doesn’t help people in any of these respects. Instead, you should weave incentives into a very clear message that everybody can understand.

Third, the email is a single point in time action. If the email is deleted, the communication is unsuccessful. Communications shouldn’t happen at a single point in time but should happen before you even buy the technology. Bring lawyers along for the ride – understand their pains, bring them into product demonstrations, let them be part of the purchasing decision.

How will I launch it?

There are two mistakes many law firms make in launching new technology.

First, the firm decides to do a ‘big bang’ release. This is a mistake, because one thing is for certain when you launch a new tool: there will be teething issues. At the very least, you’ll get questions about how to use the tool. At the worst, there’ll be bugs or errors. It’s best to find these things out with a small group of people, rather than a large group of people – where you risk reputational damage.

Doing an ‘incremental’ launch helps to discover these things earlier and resolve them before going out to a wider audience. Instead of getting a thousand inquiries about the same issue, you can document this in your training or launch materials. Instead of everybody thinking your software is broken, you can fix a quick bug without too many people finding out.

The incremental launch also helps build momentum and produces a network effect: lawyers are much more likely to use a tool if they’ve heard about others using it before them. It helps you to improve your marketing message by gathering testimonials.

The second mistake is for launch planning to be done in the latter stages of a technology deployment. Launch is something that should be planned before you buy a tool. By writing marketing materials before buying a tool, you can assess whether the right incentives exist that will drive usage. For example, you can write your elevator pitch, put it in front of lawyers and ask them whether it resonates with them.

If not, you can refine your marketing message. But if people fundamentally don’t care about the problem your tool solves, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort and money by giving up and moving into something more valuable. You don’t have to buy a tool to find out whether or not it’ll get used.

Regardless of how you launch eventually, you must have certain essential things in place, such as FAQs, training materials, how to get help and how to access the tool.

Jack Shepherd is legal practice lead at iManage imanage.com

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