9 Tips for Obtaining Leadership Support for Legal Technology and Innovation Projects

legal technology

9 Tips for Obtaining Leadership Support for Legal Technology and Innovation Projects

By Randy Taylor, Sr. Director, Global Marketing, Aderant

Earning leadership support is one of those concepts that many professionals working in legal tech agree is important but recognize it’s hard to achieve. While the steps to build a business case is straightforward, the psychology of persuasion is not nearly as clear.

Let’s face it, law firm leaders are distracted and face competing priorities amid a deluge of information. Sometimes the discussion over initiatives, like the details of enterprise technology, quickly grow beyond their area of expertise.

“Most company leaders won’t support something they don’t understand,” as Industry Week points out in an article titled, The Politics of Improvement: The Challenge of Getting Company Leaders’ Buy-In. This helps explain why obtaining leader buy-in isn’t an event or a meeting; it’s a continuous process.

Industry Week serves the manufacturing vertical, which has a long and storied history in process reengineering and change management (Henry Ford, for example, still makes regular appearances in legal conference presentations). What this tells us is that while the law firm business has nuances, it also faces some challenges that other markets have already addressed. Accordingly, some lessons that can be gleaned and used in the business of law.

9 Ways to Secure Leader Buy-In for Change

No one has all the answers, but over the years, I have gained experience in helping my teams garner executive support for innovation projects in large bureaucratic organizations. In the course of the many day-to-day conversations Aderant has with law firms, it occurred to me some of the things I’ve learned might be useful for business of law professionals that are striving to obtain leader buy-in.

1) Align with strategic goals.

Ideas for change often come from the middle but “managers struggle to sell their ideas to people at the top,” according to an article in the Harvard Business Review titled, Get their Boss to Buy In. People get stuck on all the cool factors of technology and forget to tie the purchase back to the organization’s strategic goals. For many, the goal is efficiency. No business or law firm can afford to have two different processes for the same task.

2) Shape opinion with repetition.

Long before you propose a solution (and ask for a budget), you encounter a problem. From the point of problem identification on forward, every chance you get, and in every meeting have, find a way to tactfully and strategically remind stakeholders of the limitations caused by this problem. Months later, when you do ask for the budget to buy or implement a technology, it’s a whole lot easier to tie that investment back to the problem you’ve already been referencing over time.

3) Give leaders a role in developing the solution.

As you set out to solve a problem, be sure to include the leadership in defining the requirements for a solution. If you define the problem, ask the leadership for their perspective. What do they think is missing? What is the scope? What are the tradeoffs for investment? What are the benefits?

4) Strive to earmark dollars in advance.

Every organization does financial planning, and that’s your chance to lobby or allocate budget to a problem. Even if you aren’t sure yet if the solution will be consulting help or a technology purchase, it’s smart politics to designate a place holder as a line item well in advance.

5) Invoke a sense of urgency.

Our brains are wired to focus on what’s important right now. If a project has goals that seem too distant, it’s easy to put it off a little longer. The legal environment has changed – even though demand is up – the evidence suggests some firms are growing at the expense of others. It’s not too dramatic to say, if there was ever a time to figure out how to improve how firms work, it’s now. This is especially true since it takes time to implement and experience the rewards of law firm innovation and legal technology products.

6) Involve others and build a coalition.

It’s a good idea to get peers behind you on a project, and the way to do that is to find out if they experience the same problems. It’s almost reminiscent of those late-night infomercials where the pitch is to first introduce a problem and then promise a better way. They make infomercials that way because it is easier to identify with the problem, and conceptually, the technique can help attract allies from across a law firm. Consider for example how many stakeholders in a law firm are affected by invoices that are returned for a billing guideline violation – that’s the making of a coalition.

7) Consider third-party experts.

Some projects are significant enough they merit bringing in outside experts. A CFO can certainly build a financial model, but he or she may not understand the details around technical requirements and specifications. Those decisions can have an impact on the success or failure of a project. Be sure to seek out advisors that you deem unbiased.

8) Present comparative evidence.

A simple and effective technique for building executive support is to compile data that depicts a) where your firm is; b) where the industry (or competition is); and c) options for closing that delta. For example, the 2018 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology survey shows 12% of firms complete invoices in 72 hours and another 27% finish in a week or less. If your firm takes two or three weeks, to complete the billing cycle, you have comparative evidence to focus a conversation around how to shorten this timeline.

9) Don’t bash the way things are done today.

Business of law professionals know it is a challenging endeavor to convince a successful lawyer they are doing it wrong. Chances are you probably can’t and that may not be the best approach. What you can to do is paint a vision for the future and how things could be improved. By doing this, you acknowledge their success at the same time you’re pointing out the leaks in law firm revenue streams.

Live to Fight Again Another Day

This brings us to an important point: sometimes you follow all of these tips and more, and yet the answer still comes back as “no.” The question for you to consider is how that leader, or group of leaders, came to that conclusion.

Is the cause simply that the leadership hasn’t really had the chance to process the problem and proposed solution? Is there a way that you can improve how you presented the data or the story?

Certainly, there’s a judgment call involved, but if the project is truly worthy and has real benefits, it merits coming back and trying to make the case again later. This reinforces the point that earning executive support isn’t a meeting, it’s a continuous process.

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