Transformation and Change Management: What on Earth is That, Anyway?

If we had a dollar for each time we read or heard the words ‘legal services transformation’ or ‘change management’ recently, the Elevate team would be travelling to the CLOC 2019 Sydney Institute first class all the way!

Today’s legal ecosystem is engaged in breathless pursuit of innovation; captivated by enticing opportunities to transform service delivery by combinations of technologies, novel service models and an array of management methodologies; ranging from Lean, to Design Thinking and Legal Project Management (to name just a few!). In the in-house environment, Legal Ops is at the epicentre, supporting and enabling legal teams to achieve the optimal blend of value, quality and cost efficiency.

At this year’s CLOC Sydney Institute, we will hear about exciting legal department change journeys and opportunities to deploy new technology and ideas. All change in legal services environments requires significant investment in planning and management. It is no accident that change capability forms part of “Strategic Planning” in the CLOC 12 Core Competencies Model, and that legal departments performing at the “Mature” level plan to manage change.

But what exactly are legal services transformation and change management? In this post, we will demystify these terms and consider the role of Legal Ops in the successful execution of change.

Change Transformation

Simply put, change is discontinuing something old for something new. For legal departments, change impacts important building blocks such as vision or strategy; governance, rules and policy; business processes and technology systems; performance management, org design, people and culture, or a combination of the above. Change involves modification in how legal departments perform their work, the work environment, or how clients consume the output of their efforts. Change initiatives intend to produce benefits in efficiency, effectiveness or quality. Given the proliferation of LegalTech, many change projects are prompted by new technology.

Change falls on a spectrum: on the left, incremental evolution of one (or more) of the legal department building blocks described above. On the right, transformative change involves a fundamental and structural disruption to the status quo. Needless to say, not all change is truly transformative and approaches should be calibrated accordingly.

Digital transformation for legal departments is the technology-enabled realignment of vision, processes, service delivery models and client experiences to achieve digitisation of services and defined business goals. It is occurring in concert with business and societal shifts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, catalysed by ‘always-on’ connectivity, advanced data analytics and breakthrough developments in AI, triggering revamping of processes, workforce skillsets, technology and data environments, and strategies to respond to the opportunities and challenges of digital commerce.

Regardless of whether change is incremental or transformative, it is always much harder to do than describe. However, all legal departments must hone their change skills to get fit for the future of legal service delivery.

Sometimes… things change and they are never the same again. This looks like one of those times. That’s life! Life moves on. And so should we.

Spencer Johnson, 1990 “Who Moved My Cheese”

Lawyers Hate Change!

Lawyers score highly (certainly higher than the population average) on traits such as scepticism, cynicism, impatience and introversion, and typically score lower on collaboration and trust in others.[1] Some speculate that training in precedent and jurisprudence predisposes lawyers to instinctively prefer what has gone before. Despite this, there is no definitive evidence to show that lawyers dislike change more than anyone else.

Humans are pre-configured to operate subconsciously through powerful, trained patterns resulting from ingrained habits and behaviours, values and belief systems, individual experience, comfort, references and routines. We also place more value in the things we already have or know, and have an innate bias for the status quo. In other words, we incline towards what we know rather than embracing alternatives, even when rationally and logically presented.

Worse still, people typically react to change with counter-productive emotional responses, including shock and denial, frustration and unhappiness. These reactions, if not carefully managed, can provoke complex change resistance behaviours, the most toxic of which are passive subversion of the change project, withdrawal of cooperation or disengagement.

Against that backdrop, it is unsurprising that up to 70% of work-related change projects fail to realise promised outcomes.[2] Invariably, the causes are people factors and resistance to change. The technical aspects of deploying technology or revised business processes are straightforward by comparison with the human wildcard.

Legal departments are organised systems of people, so these forces are multiplied and compounded. Busy legal professionals scarcely have enough time to work in the business, let alone manage change. This is where Legal Ops can provide tremendous value.

The Good News

Legal departments are resourced by intelligent, motivated and analytical professionals who are receptive to change when presented in a structured, digestible way which clearly and consistently articulates why change is needed.

There’s more good news. While the legal sector is facing the challenges of disruption later than many of our business and professional colleagues, we can benefit from the research, theory and methodologies long since established in other domains, and employ it to our advantage. Most important is adoption of the discipline of change management.

Change Management and the Role of Legal Ops

The Change Management Body of Knowledge (CMBoK) published by the Change Management Institute defines change management as a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams and organisations from current state to a desired future state. It offers a management methodology for planning change activity, and a human-centred way of managing people factors, drawing on expertise from diverse fields including organisational psychology, sociology, project management, design theory, process improvement, systems theory and management consulting.

The use of structured change management is vital for successful change for legal departments, which is why change management forms part of the CLOC Core Competency ‘Strategic Planning.’ Legal Ops can deliver tremendous value by ‘owning’ the space, leveraging change management tools, techniques and internal/external professionals, and ensuring suitable planning and delivery governance.

Change Management in Practice

There are multiple competing Change Management theories, from Kotter’s 8 Steps, to Lewin’s Change Model, to McKinsey’s 7-S and ADKAR. Each has relative pros and cons (though this blog is not the place to weigh them). Each is intended to help prepare the organisation and its people for structured, well-planned change, involving well-defined goals, support and consistent communication. Arguably, for legal departments, it is less important which model is preferred than to select just one, and use it effectively. With its multi-disciplinary expertise, understanding of process and technology, and horizontal view of the entire legal department, Legal Ops should provide pivotal support in the design and performance of high-quality change management.


The future of legal service delivery will require legal departments to be more agile in how they adopt new tools, methods, service models and ideas, and this requires significant investment in ‘operationalising’ change processes. Legal Ops professionals are perfectly positioned to play an instrumental role in this space.

In the coming weeks, we will be publishing more tips on executing successful change on our blog. You may visit our booth at the CLOC Sydney Institute 2019 and to speak with Steven Walker, James Odell or Jon Kenton about Elevate’s unique Elevated Transformation approach for successful legal department change.

About Elevate

Elevate is a global law company, providing consulting, technology and services to law departments and law firms. The company’s team of lawyers, engineers, consultants and business experts extend and enable the resources and capabilities of customers worldwide. Elevate is the most-used law company according to the 2017 State of the Industry Survey published by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and has been ranked as a top global legal services provider by Chambers & Partners for four years in a row. More at

[1] Herding Cats: the Lawyer Personality Revealed (2002) Richard, Dr. L available at and Alvey, J., (2010) More on the Lawyer Personality

[2] Nohria, M., & Beer,M (2000)


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