Law Firm M&As Present New Opportunities for Improved Litigation Workflow
By Erez Bustan, President & CEO, American LegalNet
While a merger or acquisition comes with a litany of concerns, firms can gain additional wins through improved technologies—but first, you need buy-in.
When firms decide to join forces, the belief is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, law firm mergers and acquisitions are often fraught with challenges – from new reporting structures and expanded geographies to the inevitable readjustment required with a new brand and culture. A significant part of any M&A process involves IT integration. For combining law firms, integrating with new, more advanced systems that address tedious and costly tasks is an attractive incentive, but big technology shifts in particular tend to invoke fear and concern among both leadership and staff.
Getting user buy-in when adopting a new firm-wide technology requires skillful and deliberate change management from the ground up. By definition, change management is the “discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes,” according to Tara Kim Eberhart, director of paralegal service and docketing at Dentons US. She recently addressed the topic of “Motivating Change” at the 7th Annual National Docketing Association (NDA) Conference. Listening to her presentation, I was thinking about organizational change through the lens of litigation workflow, and the opportunities law firms have to increase efficiencies when undergoing a merger or acquisition.
Firms can achieve significant strategic value with the implementation of task-focused technologies that create new efficiencies and recoup costs by streamlining antiquated, manual processes such as calendaring and docketing. In fact, organizations can deliver up to 10% to 15% cost savings through successful IT integrations, according to McKinsey. However, any potential workflow changes will have the potential to hinder user adoption. We all know lawyers are pressed for time and resist learning new processes.
Without an effective, proactive approach to IT change management, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Before an organization can change or integrate their IT systems, we must first consider the basics around change management. As Eberhart accurately pointed out, organizations don’t change, people do. Even positive changes can invoke a lot of stress, because change is change — it is still something new and different and requires people to adapt from what they’ve been used to. When it is something that happens at work, where we rely on stability and a steady paycheck, it can be nerve-wracking. To ensure and implement a successful change within your organization, Eberhart laid out some fundamental steps:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to support the change
- Knowledge of how to change
- Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors
- Reinforcement to make the changes stick
As in any change management initiative, a critical part of adoption involves getting buy-in from across the firm. Typically, Eberhart sees two types of scenarios playing out among law firms: 1) Individuals may not agree with the changes the organization is making; or 2) many individuals may agree with the changes the organization is making, but key influencers may not. Either situation presents a conflict. Due to this inherent resistance to change, there are three phases an organization should consider to make success attainable.
Phase 1: Preparing for Change
- Define your change management strategy
- Prepare your change management team
- Develop your sponsorship model
Phase 2: Managing Change
- Develop change management plans
- Take action and implement plans
Phase 3: Reinforcing Change
- Collect and analyze feedback
- Diagnose caps and manage resistance
- Implement corrective actions and celebrate success
There are myriad theories on how to manage change around IT adoption, but the reality is that organizations and individuals who are successful have some things in common. Once you figure out what those are for your organization and capitalize on them, the more successful you will be.
For example, one of the most common areas of integration and overhaul post-M&A not widely talked about are systems that manage litigation workflows, including docketing and calendaring. When creating or updating docketing and calendaring standard operating procedures, there are individual considerations attorneys and paralegals need to understand and buy into, including training and policies. In terms of enterprise considerations, when a law firm implements a new system, there will also be leadership who may be hesitant and don’t think implementing a new technology is a good idea.
To get buy in and alleviate fears, change managers should provide examples of success around upgrading an existing docketing application or implementing a new one. At some firms, major changes occur during a merger or acquisition in which new technologies may be implemented to achieve greater efficiency, cost savings or more effective compliance with federal and state laws and regulations.
Taking the time to understand people’s fears (such as a change in who they report to, or if their physical work location will be impacted), as well as what systems they are accustomed to, will lay the foundation for successful change. This requires a combination of listening skills and empathy.
At Dentons US, the firm implemented a new docketing system at a newly acquired firm. As part of navigating the acquisition, Dentons US had to handle attorneys who wondered why they needed to implement a new system. As Eberhart explained, M&As can be difficult for firms that have a strong sense of identity, and need to be given appropriate time to “mourn” before addressing change.
Once attorneys and paralegals shift to the acceptance phase, firms can begin helping their employees adapt to change and figure out how to navigate new tools. Having a vision for the future and keeping the lines of communication open and transparent will provide additional pillars of support through an M&A or other firm-wide shift that involves new IT systems. Change managers can learn from the process and re-invent it each time there is a new learning. Don’t forget to take the time to celebrate small wins, which reinforce the positive outcomes happening as a result of change.
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