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Earning attorney buy in: how to overcome resistance to change during new tool roll outs

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February 06, 2024


By Evan Shenkman, Sara Miro, and Alex Chiang

A law firm is arguably the most difficult place to implement new tools and technologies. Attorneys can be at best apathetic, and at worst actively resistant to changes in their workflows — and understandably so. Attorneys are under immense pressure to make every minute of their workday count (literally). Adopting a new tool, learning how to use it, and pushing through the initial growing pains long enough to see a payoff can seem insurmountable in the face of a large workload and ever increasing client demands.

Still, we are seeing firms adopt new technologies every year. With the right strategies, it is possible to overcome this resistance and successfully roll out and adopt new tools. Evan Shenkman, Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer at Fisher Phillips, along with Sara Miro, Director of Knowledge at Sullivan & Cromwell, and Alex Chiang, VP of Customer Success at SimplyAgree, have have identified four key approaches that successful firms use to earn attorney buy-in: (1) fostering a culture of innovation, (2) choosing the right tools and products, (3) earning attorney attention, and (4) assembling your evangelist council.

Foster a culture of innovation

“Culture of Innovation” has become a bit of a buzz word, but the core sentiment still matters. At firms with a culture of innovation, everyone is bought in to the notion of being a modern firm. More importantly, everyone is committed to the work that’s required to wisely source, evaluate and use technology to better serve their clients.

A healthy culture of innovation starts at the top — with firm leadership and practice group chairs acting as champions of the work done by the Knowledge Management (KM) and Innovation team. As a KM/I professional, here are some steps to foster a culture of innovation:

  1. Use RFPs to show what clients want: Treat RFPs like a collection of data points. RFPs outline client expectations for what they consider to be effective legal services. Increasingly, clients are asking for descriptions of how the firm provides innovative legal services and which software solutions they use to do so. Aggregate these RFP questions and present them to firm stakeholders, both on the operations and practicing sides to create buy-in for innovation. Law firms listen to their clients.
  2. Show what peers are doing: Legal professionals use the term “peer” to describe firms that are comparable to theirs in terms of size, revenue, and, in some instances, prestige. In the software world, we use the term “competitor.” Engage with attorneys and KM&I at peer firms to learn about software solutions used by other firms (i.e., software tools used by the competition). This firsthand knowledge can help generate interest and support for adopting new tools for the goal at the end of the day is to meet or exceed your competitors . . . I mean peers.
  3. Paint a picture of the future: Conduct surveys to identify attorneys' pain points and needs for innovation. Based on the survey results, find software solutions that address those specific pain points. Present these solutions to firm leadership, linking them to the identified needs and showcasing the potential future benefits. Firm leaders are always thinking about the future state of the firm — make sure technology is a part of their vision.

Once firm leadership provides support, it is essential to advertise this support. Attorneys and legal professionals need to know that firm leadership is committed to bringing in technology to enhance the legal services the firm provides to its clients. Then, get attorneys involved in the process. Include them in the evaluation process and pilots. Invite them to participate in an R&D or Tech council, and create an internal feedback loop between the innovation team and the attorneys that’s focused on improving the firm’s output to their clients.

Choose the right tools and products

Nothing chips away at trust more than introducing a tool that becomes shelf-ware. Often, resistance to adopting a new tool is directly correlated with the complexity of the tool and how many workflows an attorney must replace in order to get value from it — none of which speak to the largest pain point(s) felt by the attorney right now.

Instead of overwhelming attorneys with a multitude of features, it is recommended to start small with one specific use case or workflow. This approach reduces the learning curve and initial resistance to change. To choose the right tools and products:

  1. Stay close to attorneys: Walk the floor and speak to the legal teams to understand their workflows and identify clear pain points that can be resolved with the help of technology. Meet new attorneys early during their firm onboarding to socialize them with the Innovation team and create an internal feedback loop.
  2. Consider user-friendly options: Opt for tools that are intuitive and easy to use. Attorneys are more likely to embrace tools that seamlessly integrate into their existing workflows without causing disruptions. Super slick and feature-heavy tools look cool, but usually, simpler is better. Adoption is the key rather than changing an entire workflow on Day 1. Interestingly, once attorneys adopt a software tool, they’ll shift their aforementioned resistant mindset and begin thinking of additional workflows that can be enhanced with technology. This should be exciting for your vendors — it allows them to continue to innovate for your team!
  3. Seek feedback: Involve attorneys in the decision-making process by seeking their input and feedback on potential tools and products. This not only increases their engagement but also helps in selecting solutions that align with their needs and preferences. Include them in pilots, invite them to participate in an R&D council, and give meaningful gifts for sharing great ideas. Ultimately, seek to build trust in the KM&I team so that you can tap attorneys time and time again to push innovation forward.

Earn attorney attention

You’ve chosen a tool based on attorney insight and feedback, and you’re ready to roll it out. To get ROI, you need to earn attorney attention quickly — but you’re competing with trials, closings, urgent client communications, and full inboxes. How can you cut through the noise? Some ways to earn attorney attention include:

  1. Speak to their motivations: Craft your introduction to new tools in a way that directly addresses attorneys' motivations, such as the desire to impress partners/clients, increased visibility within the firm, and avoiding costly mistakes. Highlight how the new tool can help them achieve these goals.
  2. Tailor training sessions: Work with vendors to develop training sessions that are tailored to your firm's practice and clearly demonstrate the benefits of the new tool. Ensure the sessions are engaging and informative, and stay involved in these—don’t assume that the vendor, particularly if it’s a large organization, will follow through. Training is also not a one-time initiative. Training should be offered throughout your relationship with a vendor — attorneys need to learn from someone who knows the tool best.
  3. Be the champion: Take the lead in organizing and promoting the training sessions. Show your commitment to the success of the new tools and be available to address any concerns or questions raised by attorneys. Lean on the vendor to create materials, plan sessions, and engage with your attorneys.

Assemble your evangelist council

The successful roll out of any new tool is dependent on the vocal support of several personas: leaders, users, and folks in between. In sales, earning support with diverse personas is called multi-threading, and the concept carries through to law firms.

Each of these personas have different levels of interest in new technology projects and influence over their success, and together, they create something we call an evangelist council. Note that a full council is comprised of at least one of each persona; a council made up of entirely partners or entirely paralegals is ineffective. Without a complete evangelist council, it’s tough to get a new project off the ground or to maintain velocity.

Evangelist councils will typically look something like this:

Practice Group Chair (Low Interest/High Influence) - Responsible for both managing (and developing) their own book of business, and managing the dollars of the practice group.

  • Motivated by:
    • Increasing revenue per attorney
    • Bringing in and impressing prestigious clients
  • Involve them by:
    • Framing new solutions in terms of how associates feel about them: use associate pilot feedback to do so
    • Sharing pilot results and ROI data
    • Sharing what competitors are doing
    • Sharing client RFP data

Tech-forward Influential Partner (High Interest/High Influence) - This is a partner who cares about the overall performance of the practice group. They also have a sufficiently large enough book of business to exert influence within the practice group/firm.

  • Motivated by:
    • Pushing practice group forward
    • Mentoring junior associates
    • Impressing clients
  • Involve them by:
    • Actively engage them in the pilot process


Senior Associates (Low - Mid Interest/Mid - High influence) - Wants to be involved in firm strategic initiatives. Seeking to develop relationships and set themselves apart to make partner.

  • Motivated by:
    • Building book of business
    • Leading matters/projects
    • Building associate team to loop into projects (using better software = better chance of getting associates to want to work with you)
  • Involve them by:
    • Framing new solutions in terms of how associates feel about them: use associate pilot feedback to do so
    • Sharing pilot results and ROI data
    • Sharing client RFP data


Junior Associates (High Interest/Low Influence) - Lawyers who are typically 1-3 years out of law school. At large law firms, they’re typically working on Partners’ matters while trying to carve out a role for themselves at a firm. They take on a lot of the work that falls to the bottom of the totem pole.

  • Motivated by:
    • Billing hours
    • Career growth - work on large, high profile matters
    • Impress partners
  • Involve them by:
    • Keeping them informed
    • Including them in pilots and asking for feedback
    • Grouping them together to form a cohort of greater influence


Paralegal (High Interest/Low Influence) - They ensure that all of the truly administrative aspects of closing happen, like filings, signature pages, closing binders, and general document management. Because their work remains largely the same (i.e., they are not like associates where administrative tasks will eventually disappear from their workflow), paralegals are sometimes the best champions for product adoption. If they can learn a new way to do something, they will stick with that new way for a long time.

  • Motivated by:
    • Dependable processes, even if they're inefficient - they want to be comfortable with workflows
    • Being mistake free - impressing the partner/team (their client is the internal team)
  • Involve them by:
    • Keeping them informed
    • Including them in pilots and asking for feedback
    • Grouping them together to form a cohort of greater influence


Overcoming resistance to change during new tool rollouts requires a strategic approach. By fostering a culture of innovation, choosing the right tools, earning attorney attention, and compiling a complete evangelist council, law firms can increase attorney buy-in and successfully implement new technologies. Remember, it is crucial to involve attorneys at every stage of the process, listen to their feedback, and address their motivations and concerns. With a collaborative and thoughtful approach, law firms can embrace innovation and drive positive change in their practices.

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