LegalWeek’s April conference was held recently, and as with the meetings earlier this year, the April panel guides touched on many of the struggles we all face in the legal technology field. While the February sessions focused on the post-pandemic future of legal tech and the March sessions on getting back to business, the April sessions had a more nuanced theme: organizational buy-in from legal technology and litigation stakeholders.
The need for a stakeholder buy-in for any type of legal technology change is essential. Without them, organizations and law firms will not develop and stagnate as more agile competitors have better, more efficient processes, tools and teams on board. But perhaps more importantly, if the company is unable to engage and approve stakeholders, it can also put the company and law firms at risk.
As an example of the consequences of not having the required buy-in, let’s look at the legal technology process that many organizations and law firms have struggled to implement recently: the responsible disposal of legacy data. Without an effective defensible data disposal process and policy, data volumes can spiral out of control – especially in a cloud environment – which means organizations and / or law firms are wasting money on storing stale data that should have been disposed of beforehand. But it can also increase your risk in a number of ways. For starters, legacy data may include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that companies are required to have by law after a period of time under data protection laws in the sector or jurisdiction. Even if personal information is outside the scope of an obligation to dispose of it, keeping it longer than necessary for business purposes can pose a risk if the company or company where it is stored suffers a data breach or ransomware attack. In addition, even outdated non-personal information can lead to confusion, disruption, and increased costs and risks if it is subject to legal retention or included in an internal investigation. Despite all of this, implementing an effective defensible data disposal program is challenging for many, as it often requires a large organizational buy-in, from the top C-suite manager to the lowest employee with access to a company-sponsored collaborative platform.
How can legal teams get the buy-in they need to implement new legal technology and processes that enable organizations and law firms to compete and evolve? It is tempting to believe that buy-in begins with learning to control stakeholders. However, attempting to control other teams and individuals will only result in misalignment, tension, and failed implementation. Instead, stakeholder buy-in actually begins with trust. Stakeholders need to have confidence that whatever you want to implement (whether it’s a new technology, a new policy, or a new workflow) will be beneficial to them, their team, and the entire organization, and that the implementation is actually feasible is. Below, I’ve listed some tips for gaining stakeholder trust and getting involved in new legal technology and practices.
- Identify all required stakeholders. Regardless of whether you want to incorporate a new legal technology or implement a new policy for legal data, e.g. For example, an updated document retention schedule, you need to know who the decision-makers are and identify everyone who will be affected by the new tools and processes or workflow.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Once you have identified the stakeholders and everyone affected by the planned change, you can prepare to gain their trust. This means that you need to do all the necessary research and preliminary work in advance so that you are well informed and have a fully developed, practical plan to present to these stakeholders. For example, if you want to incorporate advanced AI technology to streamline your ediscovery program, you can prepare to gain trust by first speaking to industry peers as well as legal technology vendors to find the best technology and pricing options. Once you’ve chosen an option, select a test case and run a proof of concept to check the effectiveness of your own data.
- Do the numbers. When you’ve done the research and are satisfied that the new technology or workflow is a good fit for your business, quantify that adjustment by focusing on the bottom line. How much money can this 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 the organization or law firm to fund this new tool or process?
- Stop, work together, and listen. Once you’ve identified all of the relevant stakeholders and gathered the data, it’s time to bring everyone together to present your research (either individually or through cross-organizational working groups or teams). Note that the order in which you present data to stakeholders depends on your organization or law firm. For some, it may be best to bring management and executives on board first to help drive change further downstream. In other cases, it may be more effective to bring sub-teams on board first before presenting them to the final decision-makers. Whichever order you choose, it is important to remember to listen and accept feedback once you have established your pitch. Remember that this process will be iterative. You need to be flexible and possibly deviate from your original plan. You may also need to go back to the drawing board entirely and choose a different workflow or tool that is more suitable for other groups. This can lead to a change in the desired implementation timeline. The key to gaining the trust of stakeholders is to involve them early on and listen to their feedback on planning, onboarding, and implementation.
- Keep trust. Congratulations! Once all stakeholders have reached a consensus and you’ve got the buy-in of all necessary decision makers, you are ready to implement and involve them. However, that is not the end of that process. Once implemented, you need to protect the trust you worked so hard to deserve. You can do this by making sure everyone has the necessary training to use the tool effectively or to adhere to the new workflow or process. Nothing undermines trust more than misuse (or nonexistent). Whether you’re looking to embed a new ediscovery platform or adopt a new legal hold technology, people affected by the change need to understand how they are using the technology and / or complying with the program. Establish training programs, then provide ongoing support opportunities where staff can ask questions and continue training if necessary.
I hope these tips are useful if you are looking to buy in legal technology and processes from stakeholders.