The changing workplace is always an obstacle, so law firm technologists offer their tips on managing user adoption.

Change can be burdensome for any organization, and with technology dictating more processes than ever, more employees are required to apply new tools to the workflow.

Now, consider that truth in the context of law firms, a group at times criticized for its resistance to change on everything from billing structures to discovery. Before taking this stereotype as hard truth, however, consider that many firms are positioning themselves as “ forward thinking,” relying on tools as advanced as analytics for hiring and machine learning for contract management.

Behind all the hype, though, are actual people tasked with getting users from the firm onboard. For many firms, that person is in knowledge management, a practice that, according to Altman Weil’s annual Law Firms in Transition survey, is employed by 54 percent of firms “to increase efficiency of legal service delivery.” Yet the process isn’t always easy. Technology is something traditionally associated with mathematics and programming—skills that are typically considered inverse to the skills associated with being a lawyer.

In the recent HighQ webinar “The Role of Soft Skills in Building a User Adoption Strategy for Lawyers,” knowledge management professionals from law firms Bryan Cave and Bennett Jones discussed how non-tech-related expertise is integral to getting staff to adopt technology that better addresses internal and external workflow needs.

Part of why this is necessary is “to make law firms much more engaged and efficient,” as now is “the age of the customer,” explained Bryan Cave director of knowledge management and practice innovation Scott Reid. Firms need “to make these changes; otherwise they won’t be able to survive.”

Reid said that there are four soft skills that are key in encouraging user adoption:

1. Communication: This skill “permeates the universe of soft skills” and requires considering your target audience when communicating information and getting feedback.

2. “Professional values and ethics”: By taking a team-like approach to the development and implementation of technology, those tasked with getting users onboard can nurture trust among the firm.

3. Flexible thinking: Being receptive with feedback allows you to “make the right adjustments at the right time when your plan threatens to fall apart.”

4. “Emotional IQ”: Knowing when to listen and when to talk allows you to keep interpersonal factors in mind when getting users to try technology.

This may seem obvious in terms of training, but that this doesn’t appear to always be the case. According to the 2016 ILTA InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey, the second greatest IT challenge for law firms was “user adoption/lack of training,” with 42 percent struggling. At Legaltech New York 2017, Jim McCue, director of information systems for Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, noted that when his firm’s IT department was changing document management systems (DMS), some attorneys didn’t attend training, while others may not have been listening.

In the HighQ webinar, Bennet Jones national director of knowledge management Kate Simpson stressed the importance of empathy and forging a shared vision, which allows knowledge officers to excite others in the firm about using the technology. “Collaborative co-creation,” as she calls it, makes people feel valued, and having them as active voices means an increase in adoption.

Yet Simpson also stressed the importance of “observing people on what they actually do” as opposed to what they say. She said, “show me, not tell me,” which is followed by a focus on pain points.

“Lawyers are very, very good at complaining. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a fantastic thing to get them on a roll with complaining, because I believe lawyers are better at describing their pain points than helping you design a future solution.”

Instead, Simpson believes knowledge managers can circumvent “having people tell you how crap the process is” and instead have them tell you how to get them to use the product. This works especially well with law, given the highly-specialized nature of each practice area. “Lawyers have different practice areas, and each are unique, so we have a really difficult job on our hands.”

This also means varying ways of approaching work, but it’s difficult to convince someone to change something that works. Therefore, knowledge managers need to alter processes to match actual user needs. Talking to the end user throughout the process makes the entire effort more collaborative and more likely to succeed. Working with partners, associates, paralegals and the rest of the staff along the way makes them more generous with their time.

“We want to drive behaviors,” Reid said. “We have to watch what [users] say and what they do.”

Simpson noted the importance of first getting “early adopters” onboard, “because they will give you honest and constructive feedback.” From there, you can tailor your approach to other groups, which she defines as “the early majority” (who need the finished product) and the late majority (who are highly skeptical and want to avoid risk). “You need to create different communication models for those different groups to convince and persuade.”

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