Updating legal department technology: Three keys to a smooth migration

Katie Walter

With a growing number of legal departments poised to invest in new technologies, 2023 will be a big year for software migration.

More than half of legal operations professionals saw an increase in their use of technology in the past year, according to the “2022 state of corporate law departments” report from the Thomson Reuters Institute. These respondents were looking to improve efficiency and lower costs within their departments; they believe enhanced technological solutions and digitalization could help them do it.

These professionals are primarily focused on legal workflow automation, contract management, document management, and using artificial intelligence (AI) for contract analysis, risk assessment, or due diligence. According to the report, “Each of these solutions was being actively sought for procurement within the next 24 months, by at least one-fifth of departments (27% in the case of legal workflow automation).”

That’s a lot of transformational technology. How do you best prepare for complex new systems?

Start with a technology roadmap

People handle change better when they understand the problem and can see the change coming.  So, develop a legal technology roadmap to identify specific technology that can help your department support the business. It will prioritize implementing those new technologies over time, so people know what’s coming and when.

Start building your roadmap by identifying your most significant challenges and prioritizing solving them based on how they align with strategic priorities. These priorities might include controlling costs, operating efficiently, or proactively monitoring risk.

Sketch possible solutions on a timeline and get input and support from stakeholders outside the business. This becomes your technology roadmap and it helps people see where you’ve come from and where you’re going.

Plan carefully for each application migration

More than a quarter of legal departments plan to migrate their legal workflow automation applications or start from scratch. These departments are looking to rewire the way they work. This is often for the better in the long run, but in the short run, there can be confusion and delay. The same applies to departments looking to add or replace complex systems like contract management or AI-enabled systems.

People need to go through their own change curve. They may love their Excel spreadsheets and manual tracking processes — or, if they don’t exactly love them, they may rely on and trust them. This will disrupt business as usual and people need to see that acknowledged with a thoughtful approach to the change. 

The Prosci ADKAR model of change management is a helpful framework to orchestrate the transition. It includes the following steps:

  • Build awareness for change by highlighting the inefficiencies in the current approach and the impact those inefficiencies have on the business and the individual. Ask your team for examples of challenges in manual processes.
  • Cultivate desire to participate and support the change. Show people that they can have a bigger impact with a new system. Ask how they can refocus their time to deliver projects that matter to them and their colleagues. A pilot group can help you champion the change.
  • Transfer knowledge on the change. Document and share new processes meaningfully, giving people time to absorb them. Sending a link to documentation from the vendor will probably not be sufficient.
  • Support them as they develop the ability to make the change. Seek feedback on the training and continue to ask how things are going and how it could be better. Respond to feedback with meaningful changes if appropriate. Coach people as they build new habits.
  • Invest in reinforcement to sustain the change. Schedule follow-up training, celebrate new efficiencies, and recognize people who have taken the lead. If a business partner notices an improvement, share that feedback with your team.

Looking at a new system rollout through a change management framework can help you anticipate your team's challenges, identify champions, and demonstrate that you support them through disruption.

Incorporate learnings into your next rollout

Around the time you wrap up one implementation, you’re probably planning for the next one on the roadmap. Be sure to evaluate each implementation to see how it can help you improve the next one.

For instance, consider the points where people resisted. Was it in the training? Or was it even earlier, when you started building awareness of the need for change? There may be value in spending more time on those phases.

On the other hand, maybe training went so smoothly that you skipped the reinforcement stage. Was that effective? Or could you invest more time there on the next implementation to improve the adoption rate?

If your legal department is like most others, you’re facing one or more significant software upgrades in the next year or two. This process is daunting, but it doesn’t need to be painful. Setting a strategy, taking a thoughtful approach to change management, and learning from each application migration can help make the transitions as smooth as possible.

Does your legal department need a technology upgrade? Find out how to thoughtfully and strategically plan for new tech to secure approvals and win over end users in our white paper, “How to develop a legal technology roadmap.”

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