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Seven Ways to Influence Change in Your Legal Department

Seven Ways to Influence Change in Your Legal Department

Many corporate legal leaders find that they are far more successful in developing a vision than in turning it into a reality. While these legal visionaries are able to articulate a new and exciting way of practicing law, or managing the business of law, the true challenge often arises in affecting change within their department.

While each legal department and situation are different, there are some tried and true practices for influencing change within your department and increasing your likelihood of success in bringing that revolutionary idea to life.

1. Know that which you can control, manage and influence…and that which you cannot. If you or your department does not have meaningful responsibility for a function, your likelihood of being able to manipulate its pieces is greatly diminished. For example, if you believethe customer contracting process is broken, but it is owned and managed by sales, you will immediately face strong barriers to driving change. You must first enhance or make more obvious your influence in the function.

2. Identify clear needs, and align them with existing objectives.  Many leaders believe alternative fee arrangements can have a significant impact on legal department performance. Simply saying, “Go do it’, however, is unlikely to drive the desired results. If the department has an objective to increase efficiency and predictability in legal services, seek specific areas where fixed fee arrangements will meet this need and implement the solution as aligned with these business objectives.

3.  Define achievable initiatives and influential levers. The key words are achievable and influential. Matter budgeting is a profoundly effective mechanism for managing behavior. Even if the budget estimate turns out to be incorrect, the efforts surrounding the determination of the risk and effort to achieve that goal cannot be overstated. That said, matter budgeting can be taken too far. Insisting on timekeeper level matter budgets, for example, is likely pushing this management lever to the point that it no longer has the desired influence (now it is excessive micromanaging). The internal and external effort needed to manage and support the development, tracking and reporting of the budgets also makes the practice far less achievable.

4. Prove the ROI and get executive buy-in.This seems almost like common sense, but many initiatives have died because support waned from those that can most influence change. By defining and communicating a clear and meaningful return on investment during the project pitch stage, not only are you more likely to get executive buy-in and sponsorship, you very well could get a meaningful push to make it a reality.

5. LEAD the team. Legal professionals are problem solvers. It is how they were trained and it is in their DNA. They are able to assess and evaluate a situation in ways mere lay people can only watch in awe. Sometimes, this can cause projects to stall. While effective design, buy-in and change management absolutely require input involvement from key constituents, there must be a leader who can break a tie and push the effort forward. Stated another way, beware the steering committee.

6. Take advantage of a crisis. While this may be a sensitive statement to make in the political arena, the intent for corporate legal is far less sinister. When bad things happen in a company, you call legal. In the process of resolving an issue, opportunities may arise to affect change in the department that are win-win for all. A common example involves eDiscovery. In the event of large litigation, there is also typically meaningful (i.e., expensive) eDiscovery. Early in the matter, legal departments will often seek bids from eDiscovery service providers on the cost of collecting and processing the data. In some instances, the department could actually buy software and hire resources to in-source this work at a cost lower than that for this one case. The benefit of insourcing is reducing cost on this one case, removing this cost from future cases, and extending control of data on all matters.

7. Build on success. This mantra holds true both for expanding the scope of existing initiatives and for implementing new projects. When planning a project, consider your pilot program carefully. By selecting a participant that will both receive meaningful benefit and will serve as an influential project champion, you will increase your likelihood of proving value and will have a spokesman to help push the effort forward to a broader audience. Following successful projects, your credibility and realm of influence is high. Leverage this to sell your next project. Take caution and head the advice above, however, when selecting your next project. Just as success breeds more success, failure requires rebuilding your influence.

While there is no magic formula for influencing and affecting change in every department, these themes should increase your likelihood for success.

Photo credit:  Flickr via Creative Commons; CC BY 2.0

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About Mike Haysley

Mike Haysley
As Director of Strategic Consulting at LexisNexis CounselLink, Mike helps corporate legal departments manage the business of law. His experience includes over 15 years in roles as the Director of Legal Operations for a large company, consulting to large legal organizations with premier consultancies, and serving legal departments with matter and spend management software providers. This background provides a unique perspective of having personally addressed and managed many of the issues facing legal departments today, while also understanding best practices and varying needs of legal departments. Mike graduated from Texas A&M University with a business degree, received his law degree from the University of Houston, and is licensed to practice law in Texas.
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