Part 3: How to Embed Change and Innovation Successfully – Highlights from the Alternative In-House Technology Summit 2020

This is Part 3 of a series of three articles covering the key content, for me, from this year’s event, held on 3-4 February 2020.

Part 1:   How to develop a culture for change and innovation.
Part 2:   Lawyers and change.
Part 3: How to embed change and innovation successfully.

As I was writing Part 3, it became clear there is a lot of content here, so I’ve decided to break it into three articles:

Part 3A:

  • What problem are you trying to address?
  • What data do you need and what will it tell you?
  • Choosing your product/solution
  • Resource planning

Part 3B:

  • Selling the product/solution internally
  • Sponsorship from the top
  • Dealing with stakeholders – internal and external

Part 3C:

  • Change management
  • Communication
  • Training
  • Measurement and ROI

Part 3A: How to embed change and innovation successfully

Although Chris Martin of Coldplay was most certainly not referring to embedding innovation, or any type of change, in legal teams when he sung these words in The Scientist, I can’t help finding them most apt:

“… Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard …”.

The next line is “Oh take me back to the start” – but we really don’t want to do that. Let’s just get it right in the first place – a far easier, infinitely less painful and less costly option.

Corporate legal teams are at a crossroads. They can’t move forward without overcoming the challenges of user adoption. One of the overriding themes of the 2020 conference was how in-house legal teams can embed innovation effectively.

Without a doubt, this is still an area that many teams continue to struggle with. Common experiences and lessons came through in the various presentations and panel discussions, as they have for the past four years of the conference. I, and many others in this sector, have spoken about how you can implement legal technology successfully for a number of years now, but I think the lessons bear repeating. New audiences are emerging all the time as GCs continue to learn about legal operations and legal technology and the benefits such approaches and products can deliver.


Here is a summary of the key highlights from various speakers and panellists at the event. I have added my own thoughts and tips (marked SBV) where I think the points needed embellishing based on my own experience of implementing solutions successfully.

What problem are you trying to address?

  • Where do you start? You start with the problem, not the solution. It may seem trite to say it, but it needs saying. What are you really trying to achieve?
  • Ten years ago, it was all about giving legal advice. But now GCs need to embrace change and innovation. It’s almost a question of ‘how do we do less law?’
  • There is so much you could What would be the biggest, best thing you could do for your business? Look for the biggest problem and the solution to that.


  • Some teams may be coming from a position of low tech and low process – so a small change can make a big impact.
  • Why do we all need to make changes? Common themes are: to get time back; to use technology to do repetitive tasks that do not need human intervention; to have a happier, more fulfilled workforce; to make your organisation more efficient; to save money.
  • If you have too many law firms to manage, get that sorted out.   You may need to establish or refresh your legal panel – that is part of sorting your people (external people) out. People, processes, technology – in that order. This message will be repeated.
  • SBV: I often see problems that stem from:
    • (a) having too many firms on your panel
    • (b) a lack of process/discipline in how you manage your panel
    • (c) not having a formal legal panel and panel agreement in place.

Fix that and you will solve a lot of your problems.

What data do you need and what will it tell you?


  • SBV: Know what data you are after. Yes, you need it to make data-driven decisions, but make sure you know the answer to this question at the outset: ‘What do you need it for?’ Address that question and work back from the answer to decide what solution you require.
  • What data should be looking for? Practice management data is really useful – e.g. data on matters and their value, budget and total legal spend. Also data on the legal team’s workload.
  • Karl Chapman summarised your data capture requirements as quantitative, qualitative and strategic.
  • Data enables you to have sensible conversations with your business units.
  • SBV: Start with basic data and move on from there. Once you have e.g. an e-billing system in place, you can dig deeper and see what is happening with the work after it’s been outsourced to a firm. Who is doing what task within the firm and at what cost? What might need to change?


  • SBV: I’ve always summarised it as follows:
    • Data + intelligent analysis = sensible conversations + decision-making
    • Clear data + meaningful success stories = credible demonstration of ROI for the legal team

Choosing your product/solution

  • If you want data on your internal team’s workload, you might want to consider time recording as a way to capture the internal workload. This can be as simple as you want it to be.
  • A general rule: don’t attempt to shoehorn a solution into a problem, no matter how tempting that might seem, or how good a vendor’s sales pitch may be. Take your time.
  • Your ideas must be aligned with your business strategy.
  • Draw experience from the wider business.
  • Try to align technology and process with what is already working in the business. For example, if everyone is using Office 365, look at exploiting that to the max.


  • When looking at potential products/solutions, think about the future. What is coming down the road? Is your organisation looking to overhaul its IT estate fundamentally? If so, how might a technology product fit into that? Future proof your solution. If it needs to be flexible to cope with planned changes, check that out upfront.
  • Invest in technology with the business on your side, not by yourselves. You may find that IT holds the budget for any technology in any event, so acting alone isn’t an option.
  • SBV: Your product must have a pleasing UX (user experience). If people don’t like it – if it isn’t easy to use, easy on the eye and efficient – they simply won’t use it. Or, if they do use it, they will probably complain about it, and you don’t want that. You want happy users.
  • SBV: Being user friendly includes looking attractive. A system needs to be as easy as selecting products and ordering them online on your favourite website. That’s what people are used to in their personal lives. If any technology platform is more complicated than that, you will face an uphill battle from the moment of launch.


  • SBV: Bear in mind many people have already been left ‘damaged’ by previous tech products that ‘don’t work’ (even if that is just their perception), so you have that emotional baggage in place before you even launch your new, shiny product. Having something that looks, and is, a pleasure to use will overcome a big hurdle.
  • Choose the right configuration for your team. Don’t overdo it on the specification and the ‘what could the product do’ if all you need is for the product to do ABC, very well, immediately. You can look into future possibilities later.
  • When thinking about problems and solutions, you really need to get your core base sorted out. For example, many in-house teams will have problems as a result of not having the basics in place, such as e-billing, a document management system and a workflow process. Start with the basics before you move on to more complicated things like AI. Look to your panel firms for that, at least in the beginning.
  • What are most in-house teams implementing? The same as in the first year of this event, 2017. Legal spend management/e-billing, digital signature, NDA automation/off-shoring, contract drafting tools and legal intake/workflow tools.
  • Don’t overthink things too much. Your problem might actually be quite simple and there might be a simple solution. Do you need to build a full matter intake/front door system or would a simpler method of tracking incoming work suit you for now?


  • When you do decide to move on to something more complex (e.g. AI), start small. Look at implementing further innovation in a minor area.

Resource planning

  • Scope and plan the project realistically.
  • Upfront detailed project planning is crucial.
  • Build capability to support the change and bring in specialists if necessary.


  • SBV: You may need to hire an interim to assist you. Do not underestimate the time that investigating, buying and implementing a new system will take. If you don’t resource it properly, and your project starts to run behind, you have problems from the start – think about HS2 or almost any government change project that has overrun in both time and cost. What message does a delayed programme send out to the team? Nothing positive that’s for sure.
  • SBV: Do you have the right resources in-house to manage any technology product or new process once you’ve installed it? Many systems require actual management by someone who ‘owns’ that product and its continued development. Who will, for example, be in charge of your e-billing solution, your contract management solution or your document management system? Make sure the person who gets that job wants that job!
  • Appoint a project team or steering committee comprising stakeholder representatives backing the project (e.g. for e-billing, this would be legal, tax, finance, procurement).


  • SBV: Without the right type and number of resources at your disposal during each phase – planning, consultation, procurement, kick-off, configuration, implementation, launch, training, embedding – you are likely to fail to implement your changes successfully.
  • Different skill sets are required to investigate and implement new technology or process solutions. There is a huge opportunity for technologists, COOs and operations experts here – as well as lawyers who have changed direction.
  • SBV: This was addressed in my second article, Theme 2, and highlighted by Susan Hackett, but just to reiterate: we must stop referring to ‘lawyers’ and ‘non-lawyers’. No other profession does this. We do not see ‘accountants’ and ‘non-accountants’ or ‘engineers’ and ‘non-engineers’. People are skilled professionals with their own specialisms and job titles. They are not ‘non-lawyers’.
  • Look at your team. Really look at it. Have you got the right people in place? Do you have the right processes and technology in place? People (internal and external), processes, technology – in that order.

Part 3B: How to embed change and innovation successfully

Selling the product/solution internally

  • Can you sell the product or change in a way that will affect everyone for the better? Have you enough carrots as opposed to sticks? How will solution ABC make people’s lives easier? Is there something for everyone?


  • Identify potential super users or ‘champions’ early on. You need people on side to help you sell the product/innovation.
  • Listen to feedback. This is where super users/champions can be very useful. Be prepared to change the solution/configuration if things aren’t working or need adapting.
  • You may find it easier to sell the innovative idea/technology product if you avoid the word ‘legal’ in the title. Business users may prefer the words ‘delivery’, ‘collaboration’ or ‘innovation’ to ‘legal’.
  • SBV: If you are planning to label a product or process, tailor this to your organisation. If you want to call a new process a ‘legal service request form’, for example, gauge reaction with your internal clients/colleagues. If it works, fair enough. Don’t rename things just for the sake of it.
  • Remember that once you promise something, you must deliver on that promise.

Sponsorship from the top

  • You can’t just push out innovation. You need engagement – ideally at all levels and from all directions.
  • SBV: You absolutely need the buy-in/sponsorship from the top. If you need CFO/CIO/CPO buy-in – as well as the GC’s – then you must get it.

Dealing with stakeholders – internal and external

  • You need to engage with everyone – internally and (where required) externally. From the bottom through the middle and to the top – whatever is required, given your organisation’s make up.
  • Think about creating an old fashioned stakeholder map/communications map to ensure you cover everyone off.
  • SBV: Think of it as a map of nodes. Who will be affected by what you want to do? Map them all out – IT/procurement/business users/sales etc.


  • If you can make the IT team understand what the legal team does – and what it sees across all aspects of the business – you will get better buy-in.
  • Consider talking to the HR team, assuming it is larger than legal, and has already made substantial changes in terms of people, processes and tech. They may have lessons to share. They may have a shared services model for example.
  • SBV: With many processes or new technology products, you will have external users as well as internal (e.g. e-billing). Bringing your external stakeholders on side is very important. Some of these people may have the ear of very senior internal people, so if they are unhappy you will soon get to hear about it and they may derail your initiative.
  • SBV: Identify any potential blockers. They need to go at the top of your stakeholder mapping list, especially if they are important blockers. You should deal with them first.


  • SBV: What are blockers? These are people who want your initiative to fail, for whatever reason. They could be any grade and may include very senior people. They could be inside or outside the organisation and may even be within your own team. You may encounter them right at the beginning or as you progress. Assuming your change programme is essential and has sponsorship from the top, you need to handle these people – in the most appropriate way. Ideally, you will get them on side but, if you can’t, the issue may need escalating. If the GC needs to resolve an issue directly with the CFO/CIO, for example, then that must happen. Strong, consistent messaging is key.
  • SBV: Sign off. You will need to create a viable, credible and evidence-based business case for investment, demonstrating clear benefits and ROI. Sell the benefits visually if possible – the before and the after. Include the types of data and evidence your sign-off committee will want to see. Do your homework first. Include your project plan if this is required.

Part 3C: How to embed change and innovation successfully

Change management

  • Change is good – but change is also hard.
  • Adoption doesn’t start after the technology is delivered.
  • This is why you need to include all major stakeholders early in the process (see above).
  • Consider the level of change you can manage internally.
  • SBV: You can only implement the amount/type of change your organisation can cope with at any one time. Don’t overdo it. You may well fail.
  • You cannot do change to You must do change with people.


  • You want high, not low, user adoption rates. Do not underestimate how hard some people find it to adapt to new ways of working. This is a change management programme; you must treat it as such.
  • SBV: How to succeed in a difficult environment? Small steps, such as carrying out pilots/proofs of concept with an innovation-friendly user group, may be the best way forward.
  • Be willing to fail fast. You can do that easier and faster if you test/pilot your idea in a small area first.
  • Look for quick wins. Deploy a new product in phases if that will suit your organisation best.
  • SBV: Ultimately you will probably have to accept that you may not be able to bring everyone along with you, or at least not happily. There is a saying: ‘You can’t change people but people can change themselves’. Try as hard as you can to bring them on the journey, finding something positive in it for them. Try, yes, but there is another saying: ‘If you can’t change the people, you may need to change the people.’ Hence the importance, again, of early stakeholder engagement and planning.


  • Communication is vital when implementing any type of change programme. You cannot over-communicate. If a 15-minute conversation takes an hour, so be it.
  • SBV: Speak in a language appropriate to your audience. Use tools they understand and use them regularly – e.g. Excel or PowerPoint rather than Word when required. Speak face to face to people to ensure buy-in when this is preferred.


  • Communicate with the team throughout. There is no such thing as too much communication with projects like this. Ramp up your communications as you approach the launch date.
  • Continue with communication post-launch, taking feedback (ideally constructive feedback).


  • After any implementation, be it process or technology, you must embed it fast. Get people using it immediately.
  • Train, train, train. You can have a big fanfare but that means nothing if people aren’t trained appropriately and don’t start using it immediately.
  • SBV: You should train your super users/champions before anyone else, and use that feedback to further enhance the product or process. By the time it is rolled out to everyone you will have fixed the initial problems so should have a happy user base. Having happy super users on side is essential as you roll something new out.
  • Train the bulk of the team after the super users/champions. Then train them again – as frequently as required until it has been embedded successfully. Users learn and adapt at different rates, so post-live support is important.
  • SBV: Joint training sessions work best, where the technology vendor and in-house project manager train the team jointly. They can cover all bases, technical and practical, and also present as a united force, showing the product really will perform as promised. Remember – promises made must be delivered.
  • SBV: Once the team is fully trained, include any feedback in your training programme for next time – new starters etc.


  • SBV: Offer people ‘training surgeries’ where, for example, you drop by at the end of a team meeting to deal with their individual queries, one by one. Sometimes a 15-minute session with someone can completely change their mind on how useful and easy the tech is to use, and they will spread the word if you’re lucky. You’ve created another champion.
  • SBV: Tailored training sessions work best – e.g. full ‘bells and whistles’ training for the super users/champions and then intermediate or basic training addressing individual users’ needs.
  • SBV: High-level training. I advise you to include top-level training for your GC and senior leadership team so they understand the product and what it can do. They need to know and use it, even if only for the basics. If your GC knows how to perform just 1 or 2 simple tasks on, say, an e-billing or contract management solution, it may give them the vital information they need before a meeting with the CEO/CFO. Think what they might need in a hurry and show them (and their EA) how to get that information easily.
  • Train your external stakeholders where required – e.g. law firms for e-billing. The more people you get on side, successfully using the product/system, the better.

Measurement and ROI

  • This is crucial. You must demonstrate it’s all worked. Prove ROI to those that matter.


  • You will now have the data. Legal technology gives you wonderful data. This is news you can use – highly effectively.
  • Don’t forget to measure the product itself. Keep on top of it. Maintain a snagging list. Feed back to the vendor regularly. This will aid the product’s continued success. And then train people on any new releases and improvements.

Celebrate your success

  • Too many of us don’t do this.
  • When you get this right, this is a win for the legal team and hopefully the business too.
  • Use the data you now have.


  • Share senior stakeholders’ positive feedback with your team.
  • Use your new stats and your new knowledge to help you plan the next initiative!
  • And when you do … Plan. Act. In that order.

Author: Sarah Barrett-Vane


Previously Director of Legal Operations at Royal Mail plc from 2012 to 2018, Sarah provides consultancy/interim services to in-house legal departments, law firms and technology companies, including:

– in-house legal operations
– legal procurement and panel reviews – public and private sector
– legal technology implementation and process improvements for in-house teams
– legal technology solutions development
– bid support and bid writing for law firms and other legal services providers

Sarah Barrett-Vane

Sarah Barrett-Vane

SBV Consulting