Foster environment for tech change

When it comes to technology, attorneys usually fall into three groups, notes Jennifer Beaudette, manager of IT Business Analysis at Fish & Richardson: 10 percent love technology and will try anything you put in their hands; 10 percent are extremely resistant and may never adopt, no matter how compelling the technology is to their business; and the remaining 80 percent will be open to change as long as that technology is compelling, simple to use and works flawlessly.

"New technology can definitely be of benefit to any practicing attorney, but it generally requires an upfront time investment to learn and become proficient," says Beaudette. "Along with that, it can require a person to set aside a way of doing things that may be working just fine, or is comfortable."

Technology changes also come with a perceived risk of inefficiency and problems, she adds, and all of those factors can outweigh potential benefits and create hesitation. "Successful adoption of new technology is simple in concept, but difficult in execution," she notes.

When trying to appeal to that 80 percent, consider these three strategies for helping to usher in change:

Communicate the benefits: Half the battle with creating new technology initiatives is piquing interest, which means getting attention without taking too much time, and that often leads to more creative options. At Fish & Richardson, the IT team hosts social events where they showcase several technologies at different stations, helmed by a subject matter expert who speaks for two minutes about what's being offered. This "advertisement approach" helps attorneys and staff to see why the technology is beneficial to business and can directly impact individual goals, notes Beaudette.

"The technology must provide a clear and direct benefit to what is important to the lawyer, such as bringing in new clients or delivering excellent service to existing clients," she says. "Technology isn't going to be adopted because it's something cool and new, it's only going to be adopted when it has a direct and obvious positive impact on their business. The more compelling, the more likely they will invest."

Develop bite-sized training: At any firm, attorneys and staff are busy with client work and asking them to invest a chunk of time into training can be a tough sell. That's why breaking training down into small pieces and offering them in different locations - such as online, or in the five minutes before a meeting - can be a more effective choice.

For example, Nilan Johnson Lewis replaces its laptops to all attorneys and paralegals every three years, and requires that everyone attend training sessions. But that doesn't mean attorneys and staff are burning through billable hours by watching hours of PowerPoint slides.

Instead, the firm developed an intranet that has customized reference materials specific to certain technologies, according to Courtney Ward-Reichard, a shareholder at Nilan Johnson Lewis who's been chair of the firm's technology committee. Training sessions are kept short, and the firm's database and applications manager has created brief one-on-one training materials that appeal to a wide range of skills and interests.

Be an example: Often, when it comes to change, workplace anxiety can get stirred up, notes Jeremiah Talamantes, founder and managing partner of Minneapolis-based consulting firm RedTeam Security. He says, "This kind of friction is especially noted during the addition of new security processes or programs where sweeping changes are often being made."

But involvement from key people can go a long way toward helping to improve morale, he adds. In particular, becoming involved in the process by joining technology working groups, or just showing support in general, can ease the tension and help the new tech succeed.

Change is a sign that a firm is moving forward, Talamantes says, and that could mean career advancements and growth. "Change is inevitable," he says. "But it can be something that's exciting instead of stressful, depending on whether you adopt a positive outlook."

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Elizabeth Millard has been writing about technology for nearly 20 years. Her work has appeared in ABA Journal, Law Office Computing, Business 2.0, eWeek, and TechNewsWorld.

Published: Wed, Aug 20, 2014

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