Getting tech used: a separate workstream

Jack Shepherd
7 min readAug 22, 2022

Your firm has spent money on a new tech tool. Maybe a firmwide email goes around telling you the tool is ready to use. You instantly delete it — you don’t have time to read emails. Perhaps a random shortcut appears on your desktop. It stays there, getting comfortable next to the Recycling Bin, but is certainly never clicked on. You wonder, “why are we spending so much money on tools that nobody uses?”.

This is a familiar narrative for many lawyers at all types of law firms. Technology that is bought, but not used, is not only expensive but causes disillusion among lawyers. Bogged down with everyday problems such as “why is my computer so slow”, and “I wish the office wifi was quicker”, it’s no wonder that people don’t think it’s worth their time thinking of doing things differently.

Yet CIOs, innovation leads, partners and management in law firms are increasingly wanting to drive change to their legal practice through the use of technology. But in the legal world, deploying or building a piece of technology is not enough to get usage out of it. This is a separate workstream, that requires resource, effort and expertise. Here are four questions you need to answer as part of this workstream.

#1: What are the incentives?

I’m an iPhone user. The iPhone works well for me — I have got used to how I can take photos, send messages and check my work email. It would be very annoying to me if somebody forced me to swap out my iPhone for an Android phone: “what’s the point?”.

This is a human consideration, and of course, lawyers are also humans. Current processes might be working well for lawyers. Many have done the same thing for years (sometimes decades) and continue to get glowing feedback in appraisals and reviews. So what’s in it for them to change?

While this human consideration applies equally to lawyers, it is perhaps made even harder by classic lawyer personalities. Many are risk averse, perfectionists, skeptics and don’t like to admit weaknesses or knowledge gaps. Working practices are often driven by individual preferences, rather than defined processes. You have to really work to change at lawyers.

Law firms usually fall into three camps at this point. In the first camp, people immediately dismiss these concerns: “if you build it, they will come”. In the second camp, people are battled scarred from prior experiences. They see driving change as a cultural issue and admit defeat. But the third camp adopts an analytical approach and looks at ways to incentivise lawyers to want to change.

Business incentives

If you want to work at incentives, the best thing is to first look at business incentives. For example, clients may be challenging the time lawyers are spending on a specific process. Unless processes are changed, the law firm is losing money. This creates a business incentive to revisit that process, and possibly to adopt a piece of technology to improve efficiency.

This ultimately culminates in the best incentives: either “I’m taking your current tools away” or “you must use this new tool”. The best thing is that these kinds of messages usually come from partners — universally respected and listened to by the very people that are likely to be using the tools. This is a great way to use lawyer personalities (in this case, deference and a sense of hierarchy) to your advantage.

If business incentives exist, getting people to use new tools will be easier. But it is not the only kind of incentive to look at.

Personal incentives

While I might think my experience with my iPhone is acceptable, probe me a little and I might realise I’m not as happy with it as I think I am. How do I feel when I scratch the screen? Do I like it when lots of other people’s WhatsApp pictures end up in my photo stream? What about when 20% of my storage capacity is taken up by the operating system?

Do your research properly, and you can find deficiencies with how people currently work that cause pains at a personal level. If you identify these deficiencies, you can make people realise that actually, the way they currently work isn’t great after all. To go further, you can link these to impacts on their personal lives and on an emotional level.

To establish personal incentives, you must understand current processes and identify pain points. This research, and, in particular, involves speaking to all people involved in a given process to “get in their shoes” as much as possible.

For example, in my experience, lawyers acknowledge that signings and closings are generally stressful situations but do not think they can do anything about it. But if you take a step back and understand what actually happens, it’s very easy to spot the culprits for all the stress.

In this example, there are a bunch of manual processes that are hard to do and easy to mess up, such as collecting individual signature pages from multiple parties and compiling them into a composite document. Such a process is directly responsible for people going home late, and not being able to sleep because they are afraid of all the errors they didn’t realise they made.

By showing you understand how things currently work, what pains arise, as well as the impact of these at a personal level, you can establish incentives.

#2: How will I sell it to people?

The most popular way of communicating a tool to lawyers is to tell them a tool is available to use: “click here to access our new innovative tool, [name of tool]!”. This approach generally fails, and usually results in people deleting the email instantly. This is for three reasons.

First, this kind of email is talking about the tool instead of the incentives. If you follow the suggestions in the last section, you will end up with a whole host of business and personal reasons why somebody should use a tool or change the way they work. The tool is simply a means to an end, i.e. unlocking those incentives and benefits. You need to lead with those incentives, not the tool.

Second, the email is vague and unclear. The marketer Don Miller espouses the “grunt test”: “would a caveman be able to grunt exactly what it is about?”. To pass this test, readers must be able to easily understand what you are offering, how it will make their life better and what they need to do use it. Using buzzwords such as “innovation” does not help people in any of these respects. Instead, you should weave incentives into a very clear message that everybody can understand.

Third, the email is a single point in time action. If the email is deleted, the communication is unsuccessful. Communications should not happen a single point in time but should happen before you even buy the technology. Bring lawyers along for the ride — understand their pains, bring them into product demonstrations, let them be part of the purchasing decision.

#3: How will I launch it?

There are two mistakes many law firms make in launching new technology.

First, the firm decides to do a “big bang” release. This is a mistake, because one thing is for certain when you launch a new tool: there will be teething issues. At the very least, you will get questions about how to use the tool. At the worst, there will be bugs or errors. It is best to find these things out with a small group of people, rather than a large group of people — where you risk reputational damage.

Doing an “incremental” launch helps discover these things earlier and resolve them before going out to a wider audience. Instead of getting a thousand inquiries about the same issue, you can document this in your training or launch materials. Instead of everybody thinking your software is broken, you can fix a quick bug without too many people finding out.

The incremental launch also helps build momentum and produces a network effect: lawyers are much more likely to use a tool if they have heard about others using it before them. It helps you improve your marketing message by gathering testimonials.

The second mistake is for launch planning to be done in the latter stages of a technology deployment. Instead, launch is something that should be planned before you buy a tool. By writing marketing materials before buying a tool, you can assess whether the right incentives exist that will drive usage. For example, you can write your elevator pitch, put it in front of lawyers and ask them whether it resonates with them.

If not, you can refine your marketing message. But if people fundamentally don’t care about the problem your tool solves, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort and money by giving up and moving into something more valuable. You don’t have to buy a tool to find out whether or not it will get used.

Regardless of how you do launch, you must have certain essential things in place, such as FAQs, training materials, how to get help and how to access the tool.

Summary

Getting a tool used requires work that is just as important as the technical aspects of a deployment. It is something many law firms see as a time drain. In fact it is absolutely essential, and ignoring this workstream has been directly responsible for a number of failed technology initiatives in law firms.

This article was originally published in the Solicitors Journal

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Jack Shepherd

Ex biglaw insolvency lawyer and innovation. Now legal practice lead at iManage. Interested in human side of legal tech and actually getting things used.