The JC pontificates about technology
An occasional series.
/ʧeɪnʤ ˈʤɜːni/ (abstr. n.)
Of a legaltech implementation, the distance a user must cover from her existing work habits — those she has honed, refined and iterated over her excoriating 30-year, well, journey — to forge the necessary set of new habits such that the new implementation will do what it has been bought to do.
It should be so transparently obvious it does not need saying, but the modern history of legal technology suggests it’s not, so let us say it:
The key to a successful “change journey” is to be as short as possible.
Ideally, the user will not know she has been on a journey at all: her existing habits will remain intact; the new tech will seamlessly and invisibly flow around them, and her, like a gel suit filled with those little nibbly fish that exfoliate and nourish the epidermal layers of those who frequent health spas.
But, you know: fat chance of that happening.
Instead — the decision having been taken to purchase, for example, a new matter management system — a slew of graduates from the COO team will be co-opted to take the department on a “change journey” from their sub-optimal, antediluvian ways, to a sunlit upland somewhere closer to the Singularity which, it is believed, will be the resting place of this new system.
This is to misunderstand lawyers — all humans, really — as egregiously as it is possible to do.
Being engaged in answering a calling, however dimly they may be aware of what it is, lawyers feel keenly that they are already on a journey. It is a tedious enough journey as it is; indeed, they only found out for certain how dreary it would be once they were well past the point of practical return, so any further diversion is to be sorely regretted.
Especially one prompted by some little twerps sent by the chief operating office.
Like most professionals, lawyers are creatures of ingrained habit. The exercise of bidding them stop doing this and starting to do that is no simple matter of preparing curt bullet points for the “change programme workstream lead” to present en masse by PowerPoint. It is, rather, an intense, multi-year, exercise in artful, sympathetic, psychological reprogramming. Even if handled masterfully — and it won’t be — it carries no more than an even chance of success.
Another way of looking at this is that: any technology that can’t accommodate how users currently behave — that obliges users to accommodate the technology, and not vice versa, isn’t very good technology.
For legaltech is meant to be faster, cheaper and more reliable than us. It is the underpaid, uncomplaining, eagle-eyed but fundamentally dull articled clerk, there to take the dross away and give we subject matter experts the wings we crave to work our ineffable magic. You know, to argue about gross negligence carve outs, and things like that.
Tech that, instead, makes the indentured eagle’s life harder surely isn’t very good at what it is meant to be doing, and runs face-first into the brick wall of fact: a lawyer will just refuse to do something more tiresome that what she already has to do.
Habits die hard — that is why they are habits — and are generally not wiped out by new ways of working that are categorically harder.
- Wendy Wood’s Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick is good on this, by the way.