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3 Ways To Deliver Successful Digital Transformation In The Legal Sector

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

What do monkeys have to do with digital transformation in the legal sector? Turns out lawyers and monkeys have a lot of similarities: we don’t like change and we repeat behaviours even when they’re unhelpful!

Statistics show that nearly 70% of digital transformations fail.

We know that the legal profession is trailing behind (and as a consequence, adding to its own workload!), but yet, as a sector we’re forward thinking and committed to problem solving. It’s a conundrum I’ve been determined to explore, which led me to digital and commercial change expert Jason Sprague.

Jason has more than 20 years of experience designing and executing transformation in the public sector and legal services (among others). He told me that if a transformation fails it has nothing to do with the technology!

You can listen to our full conversation on the Water+Air podcast.

Five monkeys

Jason shared an analogy of five monkeys and a zookeeper. The zookeeper puts a monkey and a ladder in an enclosure. Every time the monkey moves to touch the ladder the zookeeper is cruel to it. He adds a second, third and fourth monkey, and all the monkeys copy the actions of the zookeeper and beat whichever monkey touches the ladder.

When a fifth monkey is added it moves towards the ladder and is thumped by the others. He asks, ‘Why are you beating me?’ The other monkeys reply - ‘That’s what we do here.’

Unfortunately, this analogy stands true. Lawyers challenge change because it disrupts our status quo. We are preoccupied by massive workloads and have little time to think about disturbing our processes, even if they are outdated and we can see that digitising them would give everyone huge advantages!

Advantages of digitisation

The advantages include:

  • Automating repetitive tasks (a computer does this with greater clarity than a human).

  • Reduces time spent on manual processing.

  • Provides better data to aid decision making.

In short, digitisation frees us from the paperwork and enables us to do the part that we really love - solving the client’s problem!

Why wouldn’t we want that?

Jason has the answer.

Jason: Change fatigue is a real issue. Lawyers are building in failure. The way they work is based on decisions made up to two decades ago. The secret to transformation is that you have to find some new glasses and ask, ‘What is the value in this?’

These are low-cost solutions that would make exponential changes to the legal services world. Yet, going back to the monkeys in the pen, we hear, ‘That’s not our way - this is the way we do it!’

Lots of time is filled with moving paperwork and recording things when these digital tools will do it all for us!”

We know that lawyers are predisposed to calculate and mitigate risk (but it’s clear that the 70% transformation failure rate echoes too loudly!!).

The solution

I wanted to know what Jason saw as the solution which would bring the legal profession onboard (for its own good!).

Jason: Delivering change is 100% a team sport and everybody has to be on the pitch to play. If change is being done to you and a junior lawyer doesn’t understand why digital tools are changing then the project itself is failing; it’s down to poor communication, poor purpose, poor business alignment.

Failure has nothing to do with technology or methodology. It’s down to a lack of collaboration and communication. The tools should not be a barrier, they should just simply work and empower.”

But we are not trained to play as part of a team. We have our own battles, our own clients and we do our own bit. We are trained to question but, going by what Jason shared next, we can either rebel against digitisation or we can find a better way.

Jason: Digital transformation is going to happen whether or not the lawyers are curmudgeons and want to sit there and not have it happen. It already is happening. The message is quite simple. You will become digitally enabled, you already are, whether or not you know it (you have more capability on your mobile phone than your computer gave you 10 years ago). The question is, are you going to seize the opportunity and not see it as a dis-benefit?

You are being offered the opportunity to spend 15 minutes (out of an hour of legal work), creating information, entering information, changing information, be it the awful email file, or the checklists for compliance in front of the client. And then spend 45 minutes in that hour doing what you promised the client, which is focusing on the love of problem solving, making sure you have the right answer.”

We know that lawyers have the foresight to recognise that when we adopt this digitisation it can save us a huge amount of time, but if we refuse to play ball (and are determined to be those monkeys in the pen!!) how do we move beyond this impasse to the benefit of all?

Jason shared three recommendations:

  1. Focus on the value that you want to add to your clients. Don’t think about technology. Re-evaluate what it means to provide value in the client-lawyer relationship, and find the tools that will improve clarity of data and information to make better decisions.

  2. Recognise that digitisation takes commitment and it needs collaboration. For it to be effective you need to set aside time instead of trying to squeeze it in on top of a packed workload.

  3. Address the tension that exists between the old way of doing things and the proposed new way.

Jason has shared a very clear message. If we want to add value and take the pressure off ourselves we have to stop doing what we’ve always done and get clear on the value we can add by adopting digitisation, understanding that we need to play an active role (and stop moping about it!).

When we do this we can empower ourselves to embrace technology and see it as an aid, because ultimately, it’s coming whether we like it or not!!

What’s your experience of transformation in your legal organisation? What have you found that supports people to get onboard? Share those ordinary nuggets of wisdom because we know that they help us achieve extraordinary results, and in this case, could help us all enjoy a more successful digital transformation.

Have you subscribed to the Water+Air podcast? It’s my mission to help you shift your perception and live a better version of success on your terms where your well-being is its firm foundation.

Would you like support to unlock digital transformation and optimise your team’s performance?

Jason Sprague

Jason is Principal of Sprague & Co, an organisational transformation consultancy specialising in digital and commercial change. He has 20 years of experience designing and executing transformation in professional and legal services, infrastructure, FMCG and energy sectors.

Each transformation that Jason has led has required combining people, processes, data, and technology to achieve a successful outcome. Jason began his foray into the legal sector when he founded a legal services Dot Com business in 1999 to undertake digitisation and process efficiencies in the legal practices of the Midwest of the United States. He learned that technology alone cannot sustain or expedite transformation.

Instead, the organisation’s culture is the main factor in achieving successful changes, and this is supported by process and technology to improve outcomes for staff and customers alike.

Jason Sprague can be found here:

Parul Patel

Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.

She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.

Parul Patel can be found here:

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