LegalWeek’s April conference took place recently, and as with the sessions earlier this year, the April thought leadership panels touched on many of the struggles we are all facing in the legal technology space. But where the February sessions focused on the post-pandemic future of legal technology and the March sessions focused on getting back to the business of law, the April sessions weaved in a more nuanced theme: obtaining organizational buy-in from stakeholders around legal technology and processes.
The need for stakeholder buy-in for any type of legal technology change is imperative. Without it, organizations and law firms stop evolving and become stagnant as more agile competitors onboard better, more efficient processes, tools, and teams. But perhaps more importantly, being unable to obtain stakeholder involvement and approval can also end up leaving the company and law firms open to risk.
For an example of the ramifications of failing to obtain the necessary buy-in, let’s take look at the legal technology process that many organizations and law firms have been struggling to implement recently: defensible disposal of legacy data. Without an effective defensible data disposal process and policy, data volumes can balloon out of control – especially in a Cloud environment – meaning that organizations and/or law firms will needlessly waste money storing obsolete data that should have been disposed of previously. But it also can increase risk in several ways. For starters, legacy data may contain personally identifiable information (PII) that organizations may be legally required to dispose of after a specified time period, pursuant to sectorial or jurisdictional data privacy laws. Even if personal data does not fall within the purview of a disposal requirement, keeping it for longer than it is needed for business purposes can still pose a risk should the company or firm holding it suffer a data breach or ransomware attack. Additionally, even obsolete non-personal data can cause confusion, disruption, and increased cost and risk if it winds up subject to a legal hold or swept up in an internal investigation. But despite all this, implementing an effective defensible data disposal program is a challenge for many because it often requires sweeping organizational buy-in, from the highest C-Suite executive to the lowliest employee with access to a company-sponsored collaborative platform.
So how can legal teams get the buy-in necessary to implement new legal technology and processes that enable organizations and law firms to compete and evolve? It is tempting to think that buy-in starts with learning to control stakeholders. But attempting to control other teams and individuals will only lead to misalignment, tension, and failed implementation. Instead, gaining stakeholder buy-in actually starts with trust. Stakeholders must trust that whatever you are proposing to implement (whether that is a new technology, a new policy, or a new workflow) will be beneficial to them, to their team, and to the organization as a whole and that implementation is actually feasible. Below I have outlined a few tips for gaining stakeholder trust and buy-in for new legal technology and processes.
- Identify all the necessary stakeholders. Whether you want to onboard a new legal technology or implement a new legal data policy, like an updated document retention schedule, you will need to understand who the decisions makers are, as well as identify anyone who will be affected by the new tools, processes, or workflow.
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Once you have identified the stakeholders and all those affected by the planned change, you can start preparing to gain their trust. This means doing all the necessary research and legwork up front so that you are well informed and have a fully developed, practical plan in place to present to those stakeholders. For instance, if you are seeking to onboard advanced AI technology to help streamline your ediscovery program, you can prepare to gain trust by first talking to peers in the industry, as well as legal technology providers, to find the best technology and pricing options. Once you’ve selected an option, choose a test case and run a proof of concept to validate the effectiveness within your own data.
- Run the numbers. Once you’ve done the research and are satisfied that the new technology or workflow will be a good fit for your organization, quantify that fit by focusing on the bottom line. How much money will this be able to save your organization or law firm? How much risk can it eliminate and how can you quantify that risk? How can this new process or tool improve efficiency and how much money will that efficiency save? What is at stake if this new technology or process is not implemented and how can you quantify that? What is your plan for how this new tool or process will be funded by the organization or law firm?
- Stop, Collaborate, and Listen. Once you have identified all relevant stakeholders and collected the data, it is time to gather everyone together to present your research (either individually or via cross-organizational working groups or teams). Note that the order in which you present data to stakeholders will depend on your organization or law firm. For some, it may be best to get management and executives on board first to help drive change further downstream. In others, it may be more impactful to get lower-level teams on board first before presenting to final decision makers. Whichever order you choose, it is imperative to remember to listen and accept feedback once you’ve made your pitch. Remember this process will be iterative. It will require you to be flexible and possibly deviate from your original plan. It may also necessitate going back to the drawing board completely and selecting a different workflow or tool that works better for other groups. It may end up changing your desired implementation timeline. But the key to gaining trust from stakeholders is to get them involved early and listen to their feedback regarding planning, onboarding, and implementation.
- Retain Trust. Congratulations! Once all stakeholders have come to a consensus and you have achieved buy-in from all necessary decision makers, you are ready to implement and onboard. But that is not the end of this process. After implementation, you will need to protect the trust you have worked so hard to earn. You can do this by ensuring that everyone has the necessary training to effectively use the tool or abide by the new workflow or process. Nothing erodes trust more than incorrect (or non-existent) utilization. Whether you’re seeking to onboard a new ediscovery platform or you’re rolling out a new legal hold technology, people who are affected by the change will need to understand how to use the technology and/or comply with the program. Set up training programs and then have avenues of ongoing support where people can ask questions and continue to train should they need it.