One role that a law firm project manager must play is that of managing change. Any proposed change in the way a law firm operates will frequently meet with resistance from staff who are used to doing things a certain way. Without proper change management, staff will frequently resort to doing things such as downloading data from the new system in order to create their own reports or even building their own external data management systems in order to avoid having to learn how to use the new practice management system.
Because resistance to change is something that is deeply ingrained in many people, a law firm project manager must do their best to manage change and ease the transition to using new law firm management software. Here are five principles to keep in mind in order to encourage staff to "buy in" to the change and increase their enthusiasm about using the new law firm management systems.
1. Be honest and encourage communication
Keep in mind that your law firm's most valuable resource is its people. Some members of the staff have probably been working in the field for years, and have doubtless acquired some vital insights into the operations of a law firm.
Encourage everyone to be open and honest about the new processes. If they feel that there may be a better way to do things, or if they have a suggestion, be ready to consider what they have to say.
2. Outline goals to ensure everyone is on the same page
When change is occuring in your legal practice it can be easy for members of your team to become lost and overwhelmed. Before the beginning of the project, assign goals for your team to achieve so they know what their focus should be. These goals should be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Acheivable, Relevant, Time bound). This will help members of the change project team stay on top of what they have to do. Check in on these goals throughout the change process to ensure that everyone has made adequate progress, don't just set and forget!
Also set goals on what all staff want to achieve out of this change, whether it be greater producitivty, more daily billables, document automation, firm-wide visibility or greater personal accountabilty. Doing so will give them greater clarity on the benefits which will encourage them to be more welcoming of the change.
3. Encourage leadership
The people taking the managerial roles on the project team should be mindful of their status as leaders, and should conduct themselves accordingly. It is vital that they remain open-minded and be willing to consider the suggestions of others. Remember, since a change is coming regardless, it makes sense for the change to be as beneficial as possible. This is not the time for management members to ignore the input of others who may have crucial hands-on experience in their respective fields.
Likewise, the leadership of the law firm itself should be committed to supporting and assisting the project team during all phases of the change. This will reduce lag times and improve the firm's ability to manage the change.
4. Take steps to ensure the engagement of the members of the project team
Employees who are assigned to serve on the project team will doubtless have other tasks that can be reallocated in order to give them the time to focus on the project. They should be able to give priority to their tasks associated with the change.
5. Alignment is key
As discussed previously, outlining goals is fundamental to the success of the change project and all the members of the project team should be reminded to keep their eyes on the prize. If an individual or a team begins to consider alternate agendas, the result can be disastrous. The project team should always operate with the overall goals of meeting the various project milestones in a timely and efficient manner.
Managing change will help make the transition to your new law firm management software seamless and effective. It may be necessary to spend some time with individual members of the staff, explaining how the new software will improve efficiency and free up their time for use on other, more productive, tasks. Be sure to address any job security issues by assigning new tasks to staff in order to take advantage of their increased productivity.
By following the above principles you can help ensure that your law firm continues to be nimble, efficient, and able to deliver the highest quality service possible.