You see how things are done at your firm and you know they could be done better. You don’t just focus on what needs changing, though. You actively look for new solutions. And you build the relationships necessary to help others recognize the need for change as well.
You’re a change agent. Or, at least, you could be.
What Is a Change Agent?
Change agents are those who successfully catalyze change in an organization, whether they're the CEO or secretarial staff, members of a law firm or a church group. In a recent article discussing the importance of change management, Ivy B. Grey, a senior attorney at Griffin Hamersky LLP, explains the role of change agents:
Change agents have the resilience to get through the challenges and adjustments that will be necessary to make change stick. To properly set the tone, change agents should come from a variety of positions, skill levels, and levels of influence within the firm. A concentration of unattainably tech savvy or politically powerful people will hurt change efforts, because these types of outliers tend to demonstrate difference rather than build a sense of kinship.
That is, change agents don’t give up when they hit a roadblock, and they aren’t afraid of updating strategies to make change work. Most importantly, they are not wide-eyed gurus, but people like you and me, innovative associates, forward-thinking support staff, enterprising equity partners, and the like.
A study of 68 change initiatives found that the most successful change agents shared three common characteristics. They were central to their organization’s “informal networks,” the people, regardless of their position in the hierarchy, that others went to for advice. Because those relationships spanned the firm, these change agents were able to act as a bridge between disparate groups and individuals. Finally, they were close to those who were ambivalent about change, allowing them to nudge “fence-sitters” towards change.
Identify the Opportunity
You know your firm could benefit from some innovation. But where to start? With the problem, roadblock, insanely backwards practice opportunity most meaningful to you and your practice.
Let’s say, for example, your firm still takes a manual approach to discovery. That is, when a matter requires document review, those documents are converted to PDFs, those PDFs are organized into separate folders, after which attorneys and support staff read through each document one by one, manually applying redactions and bates stamps.
Or you’re using clunky, overly complex software that makes discovery much more difficult than it typically needs to be. The kind of software that requires a 139-page user guide and a 114-page supplemental guide just to understand how to conduct a search.
Or you have to wait days for a vendor to set up an eDiscovery project, then pay a $200 “rush” fee when you need things done quickly, and deal with clients who are wondering why reviewing a single email account cost several thousand dollars.
You realize that the current approach isn’t sustainable. (It’s not.) You recognize that there is a better way. (Much better.) You know that an improved process will benefit the firm’s attorneys and clients both, bring more billable work in house, allow attorneys to handle more document-intensive cases with ease, and simply make your firm better. (It will.)
We’re focusing on discovery issues, because that’s our thing. But there are plenty of areas in the law that are ripe for improvement and innovation. Take cybersecurity, for example. Is your firm’s infrastructure dated, are attorneys browsing the web on Internet Explorer, which hasn’t been supported for two years now? Or take the billable hour. Are there routine, recurring, and predictable tasks that might be more profitable if done on a flat-fee basis? Or diversity: Does the firm need to recruit, retain, and nurture a more diverse workforce? (Probably.)
Once you know where improvements can be made, then you start the process of actually bringing about successful changes.
Find the Best Solution
Not all change is change for the better, though. Some technological “improvements” can be more trouble than they’re worth. (Clippy, anyone?) And a solution that’s not a good match for your firm's needs could backfire, making it harder to improve firm processes.
So before you start floating changes, do your due diligence. Research the options available, their features, costs, and complexity. Take demos, so you can try out the alternatives on the market. See how others’ experiences have been. Review sites like Capterra, G2Crowd, and SoftwareAdvice.com offer hundreds of reviews from actual users, giving you clear insights into how a technology has worked out in practice.
Finally, as you’re looking for technological improvements, ask yourself the following questions. What use cases does our firm have for this product? How scalable is it? Is it complex or intuitive? What’s the learning curve like? If the technology doesn’t work out, what are the consequences? Will you be stuck with an expensive contract for a product that my firm doesn’t use or can you walk away? If the product is a great fit, are the likely benefits enough to help overcome the inertia of the status quo?
If the technology is a good match for your firm, answering those questions should be easy.
Start Small, Then Go Big
This isn’t the French Revolution. Most successful changes start small and require time and effort to spread. Don’t expect to change your firm’s systems and practices overnight—or after a brief Reign of Terror.
To increase your odds of success, start with a pilot program. This will allow you to test out improvements in a targeted way, giving you the opportunity to identify and address any difficulties early on. Once you’ve built buy-in and demonstrated the value of a new approach, you’ll be best positioned to successfully roll out changes throughout the organization.
Keep in mind, change is hard. But change isn’t impossible. (When's the last time you saw a scrivener toiling away in some law firm backroom, after all?) With some time, effort, and commitment, change agents can bring much needed innovations to their firm.