Legal Innovation Zone: A people-centred approach to technology

In the excitement to embrace technology, we may forget about the needs of the people for whom we are designing

Kate Simpson

There are books, courses and entire careers dedicated to leading and managing change in organizations. All explore ways of persuading humans that they should change how they currently do things to this other smarter/faster/better/cheaper way. In return, humans give many personal, organizational, cultural and technological reasons for not using or embracing technology, whether at work or at home.

Adopting technology to carry out a task or set of tasks is not a singular event. It's a long-term, multi-step process. There is no magical incantation that we will one day whisper as we sign on the dotted line to guarantee adoption of the Next Big Thing. That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't try; and we must gather all the new insights and build them on top of today's insights, to reveal different things we can try for different applications and with different audiences.

In our excitement to embrace technology, though, it is easy to forget about the people, their contexts and their stories, for whom we are designing. The old adage of people, process, then technology still rings true.

Another adage is that law is a relationship business. The advocacy and counselling that form the heart of the legal services we provide means that change management also needs to focus on the personal.

Here are a few of my favourite insights into building a people-centred approach to technology.

What's in it for me?

“Grudin's law: When those who benefit are not those who do the work, then the technology is likely to fail or, at least, be subverted.”
– Don Norman, Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine (Diversion Books, 1993)

We are used to dealing with the measurable business benefits of technology such as increased revenue, lowered costs or minimized risk. These are useful for the purposes of persuading firms to buy the technology, but they are not useful for persuading humans to use the technology. The technological benefits are more personal and need to be described for each type of user involved. They should be presented as saving a lawyer from doing the repetitive, the administrative or the boring or improving the quality of their work. We use this method particularly when we train junior lawyers on some of the practice tools we use, such as Contract Companion, which checks cross-references and defined terms, or BriefCatch, which checks written communication for errors as well as improving the persuasiveness of your arguments.

What's broken?

A change in behaviour or process must start with a recognized pain point. Technology needs to solve a problem first and foremost. Today's workday is littered with technology’s microaggressions. Sometimes,  technology gets in the way of what we need to get done (e.g., screens freezing, printer inexplicably missing from the network) or it means that it takes longer than it should for the value we're seeing (eight clicks instead of three, and yes, we're counting those clicks) or systems simply behave differently (an update with new features and buttons in different places, like they've rearranged the supermarket overnight!).

And then there are the bigger issues of write-downs, write-offs and shrinking profit margins for certain legal work. We need to explore technology and new processes that enable lawyers to deliver better client service to do more with less. We need to explore technology that will solve those manual and inefficient processes that hinder lawyers from working at the “top of their titles.” In other words, we need to ensure that the right people are doing the right things with the right tools at the right time.

What was that tool called again?

One marketing principle says that a prospect needs to see or hear a message at least seven times before they internalize that message and do something about it. A marketing campaign that creates awareness and interest must form a central role in your change management program. Where and how that is started depends on the tool or system. But communication, repetition and the medium you choose will be key.

The need for a particular lawyer to know about or use the tool may not happen at the time of your first (or followup) email or when you put on that training session or when you mention it at a practice group meeting or when it appears on the intranet's homepage. But if a process breaks down or a client wants a different way of doing things or an associate thinks “there must be a better way,” then you have a receptive audience. As for many things in life, “timing is everything” for your messages.

Is it easy?

“When technology precedes requirements and user needs, the UX [user experience] suffers — it leads to solutions in search of problems.”
– Peter Morville, Semantic Studios

The technology we use in our firms will always be compared to the shiny consumer technology and interactions we use at home. Even without those kinds of budgets, we must get as close as we can to a useful, usable and engaging interface for busy knowledge workers to use. It is this principle that is one of the hardest to meet for legal technology vendors. Making a tool intuitive and easy to use for all lawyers and their myriad ways of working is hard, and what seems intuitive to one can often be the opposite for another. Without deep integration with the other workflow tools that lawyers use, making it easy for adoption at the right time, in a deal or file, is even harder. Again, though, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It starts with understanding how lawyers work, and then designing interfaces and tools that tame the complexity of these workflows.

Of course, even if you are guided by the recommendation insights above, neither engagement nor change is guaranteed. It's an ongoing process that will require sustained leadership, as well as some clever nudges to influence behaviour in the right direction at your firm. But reorienting technology around the people using it is exactly what drives our knowledge management teams to gather the insights and try different things with different audiences for greater adoption.

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