Introduction to Change Management in Legal Operations

By Patty P. Tehrani, Esq., a consultant providing subject-matter expertise on a wide range of legal department operations and regulatory compliance issues.

How do lawyers deal with change?

Change management is not an unfamiliar concept to lawyers. Most lawyers recognize the continuing need to evolve their practice or legal operations with the help of emerging technologies and ever-changing legal professional roles and profiles. But a disciplined approach in a change-averse profession such as the legal profession can be challenging. Continuous improvement efforts are not often viewed favorably by lawyers and more often an ad hoc approach is favored to address changing business needs. Not to mention that many lawyers often cite time constraints in planning for changes, and more often employ a reactive approach in making changes.

But more and more lawyers recognize that if they don’t regularly transform themselves professionally, they may fail to survive. Consider that drivers for change include cost containment efforts, operational efficiency projects, automation, and increasing regulatory requirements. An ad hoc approach is not always plausible and is more and more being replaced by careful consideration, assessment, and planning for strategic choices.

Change management in the legal profession involves a proactive approach that entails analysis, planning, and implementation to facilitate the redesign of legal functions, systems, or processes. This discipline should be fully integrated into decision-making, both informing and enabling strategic direction. But it must also rely on a realistic assessment of the lawyer’s readiness, and capacity to change.

Change Management Basics

When designing a change management strategy, there are three principal areas for lawyers to consider:

  • Legal operations need to evolve;
  • Participants need to partake and be a part of the process; and
  • The framework needs to be operationalized and monitored.

Next, the change management strategy requires lawyers to ask themselves:

  • What direction or outcome is desired and feasible? What challenges and constraints should be factored in?
  • What priorities should be applied?
  • What resources are available?

Lawyers need to treat legal operations as an evolving function and to allocate time to plan, design and execute strategies to maintain and enhance the operations. By using this thinking, lawyers should end up:

  • Allocating time for the change by scheduling a planning period or session to assess and plan;
  • Designing a plan that can be implemented even if in phases; and
  • Obtaining the requisite support for plans, including resources to carry out the measures.

In the end, changing legal operations requires lawyers to think outside of the box and requires dedication. It also requires time and a willingness to work through challenges and to be patient as the change does not always happen overnight.


Lawyers must be mindful and accept that change is a necessary component of legal operations. Without meaningful commitment, change management is doomed to fail. As a result, the approach must be collaborative, and requires lawyers to engage impacted areas and individuals to ensure the best results. Engagement requires the encouragement of feedback, participation, and ownership of the change to derive the most benefit from different views and experiences. Importantly, collaboration is best done through open and thorough communication, explaining why change is needed, and the benefits from the change. Giving people a chance to process the information and ask questions goes a long way in managing any concerns and leading to acceptance of the change.

Plan, Implement and Assess

Lawyers need to understand that any new approach can raise concerns. As a result, lawyers need to make sure during periods of change that clear accountability, deliverables, and timelines are assigned and tracked in writing. Planning is the best way to assure that parties are clear on who is responsible for what, and when these measures are due.

Additionally, change management requires an implementation to have a true effect. For example, if the change involves a new process to manage cases, planning alone will not suffice. Lawyers will need to implement the new process and then continue to monitor it to see how it fares (for example, does it meet expectations?). They should also be prepared for the possibility that certain changes may not work as originally planned. The only way to flag potential disconnects is to implement the change and then assess it. These assessments are key to help identify lessons learned from the change and what can be done to improve it.

With these basic principles in mind, the next document will cover recommended measures to help implement a change management process.

Learn more about legal operations functions and benefits.

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