by Henning Zander
Introducing new IT into the legal department can be a very emotional experience for some employees. If this is the case, an individual approach must be defined for each employee.
It always makes sense to get employees involved in the change process. The degree of participation can be highly varied: from forming working groups to independently developing simple apps – anything is possible.
However, project management should specify clear targets and have a plan for how to achieve them. Innovation is a matter for the boss and can’t simply be delegated.
Until changes have been accepted, employees go through various emotional phases. Finding out where employees currently stand makes it easier for management to react appropriately.
TYPE 1: THE DOER
Lawyers as programmers? This may seem like a hobby at most. But as a profession? Software AG took a risk on this experiment. Lawyers actively got involved in digitalization projects, and even developed their own apps. The underlying idea is that no one is afraid to like their own product. “The opposite is true. They are really proud to see the app go live,” explains Dr. Benno Quade, General Counsel.
This is just one of the many ways to encourage employees to accept new technologies. Introducing new software in the legal department also involves a change process, and many people are afraid of change. Company lawyers have to learn how to deal with this fear. The approaches taken by legal departments to achieve this are highly varied, but they do have something in common: They all get the affected parties involved in the change process.
Lawyers program successful apps
In 2013, Software AG bought a startup called Longjump. Benno Quade supervised this purchase as the M&A lawyer. The startup had developed a technology platform for business process management, which was able to depict processes in companies via links and simple commands. When Quade later took over as head of the legal department and wanted to improve efficiency, he remembered this startup. “I was able to convince the supervisory body that it made sense to develop our own solution using this platform,” explains Dr. Quade. And he offered to do the programming.
Software AG needed a virtual boardroom and an insider database. Quade was allowed to experiment, and it paid off. Both tools are now in use and functional. “As the manager, it was important to take the reins,” says the General Counsel. “I encourage my employees to analyze their processes: What can be automated, what can be digitalized?” The legal department has since developed twelve different apps that are also used in other departments, like finance and HR.
“We have to eliminate the fear associated with using technology; reduce the threat. This is easier to do if we get involved in the digitalization process ourselves.”
Dr. Benno Quade, General Counsel Software AG
Computer scientists and lawyers think alike
“We have to eliminate the fear associated with using technology; reduce the threat,” says Dr. Quade. “This is easier to do if we get involved in the digitalization process ourselves.” Individual positive digitalization experiences serve as the best change management tools. The General Counsel’s management approach is based on this concept. He believes that a lawyer’s core competencies could also include programming. “I believe that this approach could work everywhere. Lawyers are capable of this.” There is the term low coders, which describes a person who creates software with little programming effort. In line with this, Quade likes to use the term law coders. “Lawyers have a real advantage here. We already think in if this-then that scenarios, just look at our evaluation schemes. We are capable of programming.”
When confronted with change, employees go through seven phases, which are based on a model created by Dr. Richard K. Streich, Professor of Economics and Behavioral Sciences. It beings with the shock related to learning that a major change will be made. This is followed by rejection: The change does not coincide with one’s own knowledge and experience. The third phase comprises rational insight into the situation, i.e. recognizing that something about the change is perhaps right. The next phase is emotional acceptance, which is linked to a learning curve and the realization that it does work. The last phase is integration. That which is new has established itself. No one can now imagine that things used to be different.
TYPE 2: THE VISIONARY
Dan-Alexander Levien, lawyer and Director of Legal Services at Audi Electronics Venture GmbH, has an exact idea about what the future could look like. “In my vision, artificial intelligence will be able to assume 75% of today’s traditional legal work.” It will be the lawyer’s task in the future to develop workflow processes, to implement, control, improve and resolve issues that the computer cannot solve.
Changes bring chances
Lawyers are often security-minded individuals. “The question is, how can we ease their minds,” says Levien. You could put on the pressure, create a situation in which change is inevitable. Or, you can make change attractive by clearly demonstrating that there is something to gain. The incentives are varied: Less repetitive or boring work, the opportunity to concentrate on conceptual topics or special tasks, more affirmation, a larger budget. Cash incentives are overrated, according to Levien. “At the end of the day, it is all about people and their emotions.”
“At the end of the day, it is all about people and their emotions.”
Dan-Alexander Levien, lawyer and Director of Legal Services at Audi Electronics Venture GmbH
Innovation is a job for the boss
Levien also believes that managers have an important function as role models: “Innovation cannot be delegated.” In line with this belief, he took the helm on three innovation projects in the past: the development of software solutions for an automated review of contracts for work and services; a contract generator that uses text blocks taken from a database instead of templates; and a semi-automated check of open source rights. “When I see that the team’s time is not being spent properly, I think of a new way to get the job done,” he explains. That is why it is important to get employees involved. “We all sit together in an open-plan office. No one here retreats to a quiet corner to later emerge and present accomplished facts to the others.” Before a tool goes live, everyone has seen, talked about, tested the tool and actively been involved in some way.
Outsource easy work to software
The company has been working with the automated check of contracts for work and services for five years. Users click through a catalog of questions. Once finished, the tool can state whether commissioning the service provider is in line with the requirements. The tool also makes specific recommendations on what should be done to establish compliance – helping employees help themselves. “If we didn’t have this tool, I would have to ask the same 28 boring questions every time I wanted to offer a customer advice,” says Levien. Simple, repetitive work is outsourced to the tool. This is Dan-Alexander Levien’s best case scenario for digitalization.
Everyone hopes that the software’s primary purpose will be to make things easier, faster, and more efficient. This promise is often made by manufacturers of software solutions who enter the market. But employees often have a different perspective.
TYPE 3: THE DIPLOMAT
“For many employees, this is a burden at first,” says Fabian Jahn, Legal Counsel at the Max-Planck Society for the Advancement of Science e.V. “Management is easily excited, but those farther down the line often have reservations.” As project manager in the legal department at the Max Planck Society, Jahn introduced the e-file. At the start of the project, he struggled with major resistance, says Jahn. He learned three important lessons from this experience: First, project managers have to establish trust. There must be a clear plan of what it is going to be done. People must then be made aware of why the tool is being introduced and how it works. Third, a positive, realistic image must be created. “Management should never bad mouth the project,” says Jahn.
Pushing a system like this from the top down is the wrong way to go about it. But it is also useless to establish a working group that “should prepare a concept. You don’t get any results.” For Fabian Jahn, it all depends on having strategic rigor. The plan must exist before it is presented to employees. Then other employees can also get involved. The Legal Counsel recommends, among other things, identifying the hidden leaders to serve as multipliers. Hidden leaders who are trusted by their coworkers may not necessarily be upper management.
“It is better to involve and encourage people who really want to work constructively.”
Fabian Jahn, Legal Counsel at the Max-Planck Society for the Advancement of Science e.V.
How to deal with critics?
Constructive criticism can improve a project and create room for possibilities to change, explains Jahn. Some people just want to be heard, however, and they should not be given too much leeway and preferential treatment. For those not willing to pull their weight, you have to decide how important they are to the success of the project. “It is better to involve and encourage people who really want to work constructively,” advises Jahn. These people may get other new people involved. He basis this conclusion on experience he gained during the e-file project: People produce better work if they work next to a high-performing person.
Source: Prof. Dr. Richard K. Streich
When faced with major change, employees experience these seven phases:
Phase 1: Shock (“This can’t be happening…”)
Phase 2: Rejection (“This isn’t right…”)
Phase 3: Rational insight (“Perhaps it isn’t all that bad…”)
Phase 4: Emotional acceptance (“It is actually alright…”)
Phase 5: Learning (“I’ll give it a try…”)
Phase 6: Recognition (“It actually works…”)
Phase 7: Integration (“It is so logical…”)