Can You Be a Change Agent at Your Firm?

Aderant Think Tank

Can You Be a Change Agent at Your Firm?

It’s probably not a stretch to say that most lawyers, and the firms who employ them, are resistant to change. By nature and training, lawyers think logically. Therefore, any attempt to alter the status quo at a firm is likely to be met with skepticism and challenging questions. As firms seek to be more competitive, however, they are being forced to confront new business methods, new fee structures and a revamping of the traditional attorney-client relationship. It will take new leaders, or so-called change agents, to help firms navigate this environment.

Much has been written in recent years about the importance of change agents in firms, but many of the challenges of that role remain in place. When the ABA addressed the topic nearly a decade ago, they found that positive change in firms often fails because of a lack of commitment from the partners and employees, and not enough effort from those seeking change to give feedback, coaching and reinforcement. They cited a useful “change model” by Harvard leadership professor John Cotter, who recommends that your plans include:

  • Securing support from management;
  • Developing a vision and strategy;
  • Providing forums for discussion;
  • Dealing with the “why” question with clear and concise statements; and
  • Empowering people so they’re able, willing and ready to go along with the change.

So what does it take to be an agent of change at your firm? A recent post titled Law Firm Change Agent: Do You Have What It Takes?, noted that change agents demonstrate consistent positive qualities, including patience in achieving their objectives, a strong work ethic, strategic thinking and staging of priorities, an ability to understand multiple perspectives and an ability to build consensus and energize others. The book Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition describes the qualities you’ll need to display to lead your firm through transformative change. These include authenticity, empathy, honesty, patience and openness.

While patience is important and you shouldn’t try to rush change through, in industries historically more resistant to change, such as legal, patience can really be process paralysis in disguise. A change agent must remember that the real enemy is often as basic as satisfaction with the status quo. A balance must be struck between managing “change whiplash”, as Denise Brosseau calls it, and maintaining the proper momentum to propel your organization forward.

One way to find this balance is to take time to strategically plan for the changes about to transpire at your firm, developing resources to help facilitate the change such as a detailed project timeline and phase evaluation. Establish realistic expectations for both those resistant and keen to bringing about change. Determine who the other “change cheerleaders” at your firm are and recruit them help you build excitement and drive momentum for the project. Once you have that base support, it is much easier to bring others on board with a more grassroots approach.

It probably goes without saying that change is tough, especially when your firm is locked into the status quo. Embracing your role as a change agent, however, can lead to great personal development while also putting you at the forefront of your firm’s future.

Join the discussion on LinkedIn or Twitter @Aderant and let us know what you think!