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Law Firm M&As Present New Opportunities for Improved Litigation Workflow
While a merger or acquisition comes with a litany of concerns, firms can gain additional wins through improved technologies—but first, you need buy-in.
By: Erez Bustan, President & CEO, American LegalNet
When firms decide to join forces, the belief is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, law firm mergers and acquisitions are often fraught with challenges – from new reporting structures and expanded geographies to the inevitable readjustment required with a new brand and culture. A significant part of any M&A process involves IT integration. For combining law firms, integrating with new, more advanced systems that address tedious and costly tasks is an attractive incentive, but big technology shifts in particular tend to invoke fear and concern among both leadership and staff.
Getting user buy-in when adopting a new firm-wide technology requires skillful and deliberate change management from the ground up. By definition, change management is the “discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes,” according to Tara Kim Eberhart, director of paralegal service and docketing at Dentons US. She recently addressed the topic of “Motivating Change”
at the 7th
Annual National Docketing Association (NDA) Conference. Listening to her presentation, I was thinking about organizational change through the lens of litigation workflow, and the opportunities law firms have to increase efficiencies when undergoing a merger or acquisition.
Firms can achieve significant strategic value with the implementation of task-focused technologies that create new efficiencies and recoup costs by streamlining antiquated, manual processes such as calendaring and docketing. In fact, organizations can deliver up to 10% to 15% cost savings
through successful IT integrations, according to McKinsey. However, any potential workflow changes will have the potential to hinder user adoption. We all know lawyers are pressed for time and resist learning new processes.
Without an effective, proactive approach to IT change management, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Before an organization can change or integrate their IT systems, we must first consider the basics around change management. As Eberhart accurately pointed out, organizations don’t change, people do. Even positive changes can invoke a lot of stress, because change is change — it is still something new and different and requires people to adapt from what they’ve been used to. When it is something that happens at work, where we rely on stability and a steady paycheck, it can be nerve-wracking. To ensure and implement a successful change within your organization, Eberhart laid out some fundamental steps:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to support the change
- Knowledge of how to change
- Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors
- Reinforcement to make the changes stick
As in any change management initiative, a critical part of adoption involves getting buy-in from across the firm. Typically, Eberhart sees two types of scenarios playing out among law firms: 1) Individuals may not agree with the changes the organization is making; or 2) many individuals may agree with the changes the organization is making, but key influencers may not. Either situation presents a conflict. Due to this inherent resistance to change, there are three phases an organization should consider to make success attainable.
Phase 1: Preparing for Change
Phase 2: Managing Change
- Define your change management strategy
- Prepare your change management team
- Develop your sponsorship model
Phase 3: Reinforcing Change
- Develop change management plans
- Take action and implement plans
- Collect and analyze feedback
- Diagnose caps and manage resistance
- Implement corrective actions and celebrate success
There are myriad theories on how to manage change around IT adoption, but the reality is that organizations and individuals who are successful have some things in common. Once you figure out what those are for your organization and capitalize on them, the more successful you will be.
For example, one of the most common areas of integration and overhaul post-M&A not widely talked about are systems that manage litigation workflows, including docketing and calendaring. When creating or updating docketing and calendaring standard operating procedures, there are individual considerations attorneys and paralegals need to understand and buy into, including training and policies. In terms of enterprise considerations, when a law firm implements a new system, there will also be leadership who may be hesitant and don’t think implementing a new technology is a good idea.
To get buy in and alleviate fears, change managers should provide examples of success around upgrading an existing docketing application or implementing a new one. At some firms, major changes occur during a merger or acquisition in which new technologies may be implemented to achieve greater efficiency, cost savings or more effective compliance with federal and state laws and regulations.
Taking the time to understand people’s fears (such as a change in who they report to, or if their physical work location will be impacted), as well as what systems they are accustomed to, will lay the foundation for successful change. This requires a combination of listening skills and empathy.
At Dentons US, the firm implemented a new docketing system at a newly acquired firm. As part of navigating the acquisition, Dentons US had to handle attorneys who wondered why they needed to implement a new system. As Eberhart explained, M&As can be difficult for firms that have a strong sense of identity, and need to be given appropriate time to “mourn” before addressing change.
Once attorneys and paralegals shift to the acceptance phase, firms can begin helping their employees adapt to change and figure out how to navigate new tools. Having a vision for the future and keeping the lines of communication open and transparent will provide additional pillars of support through an M&A or other firm-wide shift that involves new IT systems. Change managers can learn from the process and re-invent it each time there is a new learning. Don’t forget to take the time to celebrate small wins, which reinforce the positive outcomes happening as a result of change.
IPMA Board Perspective Featuring Patty Maxwell
By: Patty Maxwell, Legal Support Manager, Arnold & Porter
Since survival and relevance is the name of the game in the legal industry today, we need to ensure that the IPMA is on the cutting edge of helping its members in this regard. To that end, in the coming year I encourage our membership to not only “do one thing” for the organization but to do one thing more. I hope that one thing more will be to share ideas and strategies on how we all stay relevant in our jobs, and would love for each Chapter to hold a meeting to discuss this topic. After each chapter meeting, please send an update to HQ who will make sure that all the ideas get out in News and Notes.
Additionally, in the coming year I want to institute a “show me” policy. By that I mean “show me” what you are doing for the organization! Write an article for Inspired Leadership, bring in new members or business partners; join a committee; chair a committee and position yourself to be the leaders of tomorrow for the IPMA. Show me and the Organization your commitment to moving us forward into the next generation of Paralegal Management.
I hope that today’s members who are interested in becoming tomorrow’s leaders will reach out to Board Members for mentorship on how to take on that role. I know that everyone is concerned about the time commitment, but that commitment is relatively small especially compared to the feeling of accomplishment that helping to guide the organization forward brings.
I look forward to working with each and every member on the coming year to strategize on the best ways to strengthen and grow the IPMA. Without every member’s participation, the task at hand is much harder. Together we can make this happen!
Let’s keep all the positive energy generated at Conference going all year to make us a better and stronger organization.
All the best wishes for a Happy Holiday Season and here’s to a great 2020.
Be Invested and Be Involved.
How Do You Holiday?
By: Brian Bernhard, Sr. Practice Group Manager, Denver Immigration, Ogletree Deakins
As if the holidays aren’t challenging enough with gifts and parties for our family and friends, as managers we have to navigate the holidays with our teams as well as our managers and coordinators. Where does the giving stop and start in the law office/corporate legal department setting? We are already walking the tightrope trying to balance the firm’s priorities and the practice support staff’s needs, and a gift giving faux pas can amp up the office drama quotient significantly.
In full disclosure, I have to tell you that “Gift Giving” is not one my love languages. I scored very low in this area of the infamous five love languages quiz. I just don’t like gifts– neither giving nor receiving. Every year around my birthday, I tell my wife that all I want for my birthday is for no one to spend any money.
I appreciate having my first experience as a manager at a small firm. There were religious differences within the office, which made gift giving at the holidays something that no one did. We didn’t give gifts to attorneys, and they didn’t give gifts to us. Haggling over the holiday bonus schedule and advocating for the largest possible bonuses for my staff was my “gift” to them. But we got good bonuses, so everyone was happy.
Now that I work at an international firm, I find myself navigating the murky waters of gift giving all over again. Suddenly, I have shareholders and professional staff members giving me gifts. After so many years of being a manager, I thought I had my boundaries well-established – NO GIFTS! What do I do now?
Last year was the first year I gave anyone at work a holiday present. I thought that I could establish boundaries again and only give gifts to those who I work most closely with. In this case, it was my managing shareholder, and the managers and team leads that report to me. I also knew that I would be getting gifts from these co-workers, so it made drawing the line much easier. I also wanted to give a gift that was meaningful but inexpensive. So, I went out and bought all of them what I wanted most – a chance to win the lottery! It seemingly met all of my criteria and I didn’t have to lose sleep over whether they would like it or not.
If you are considering what you should do for holiday gifts, if you haven’t given gifts in the past, my recommendation is always to not start something you can’t stop. Your HR department should be supportive as well. Gifts from managers can be construed as part of your compensation and whether there is always the possibility that it could be considered taxable. I would also recommend participating in all of the other office holiday activities. Not only will you be seen as a good role model, you will likely encourage more participation amongst your staff. This way you will not be seen as a Scrooge and you can still have some holiday fun.
If you are already in too deep and you are wondering how you can get out of the gift giving cycle, a candid conversation with those you exchange gifts would likely suffice, particularly if the gift giving is between you and people who report to you. Chances are, they may be just giving you a gift because they know that you will be giving them one. I would also check with your HR department to see what they say about gift giving around the holidays. Chances are very good that they will discourage it. Just imagine the relief everyone will feel if they don’t have to come up with gift ideas for the holidays anymore! If all else fails, give lottery tickets and hope someone wins and gives you a bunch of it so you can retire.
Competence: Substance Abuse in the Legal Profession: Bad and Getting Worse
By: David Mann, J.D., Northern California Consultant, The Other Bar
The legal profession has a reputation for many things. Perhaps because of the role lawyers and the legal system play in the frequently unpleasant business of resolving disputes and regulating behavior in society, the public’s perception of the profession is wrought with uncomplimentary stereotypes. Is there another profession that has its own genre of jokes? The local bookstore is likely to have a small section devoted to books containing lawyer-centric “humor,” virtually all of which evinces a negative and derogatory view of lawyers and the law. One of these stereotypes is that of the drunken trial lawyer, whose origins can be traced at least as far back as Shakespearian times. Unfortunately, this stereotype has a real and worsening basis in fact. Substance abuse in the legal profession, a long recognized problem, has recently been well-documented as a phenomenon that is getting progressively more widespread, with serious consequences for practitioners and the public. Lawyers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol, almost by definition, cannot be relied upon to provide competent legal services to their clients. Accordingly this issue needs to be prioritized and addressed.
It is no coincidence that the California State Bar Association’s continuing legal education requirements have long included a mandatory unit on this subject. Additionally, the State Bar administers a legislatively-established Lawyer Assistance Program, (“LAP”), largely to address this problem. Unfortunately, it has recently become apparent that much more must be done. A clarion call for action went out in 2016 with the publication of an article entitled The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys. (Addiction Medicine, Volume 10, Number 1, January/February 2016)
This research, conducted By Patrick R. Krill, JD, LLM, et. al., was co-sponsored by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association, and made a number of findings which shocked the profession.
The study utilized a sample of 12,825 licensed, employed attorneys across 19 states. They comprised all walks of the profession, and reflected a high level of diversity regarding demographic categories such as race, gender, and age. Each attorney completed a survey, the results of which were subjected to pre-existing and well-established evaluation protocols. The overall conclusion was that “attorneys experience problem drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations.” Some specifics:
- 20.6 % of participants screened positive for potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.
- Surprisingly, respondents 30 years of age and younger were more likely to have a higher score than their older peers.
- Levels of depression, anxiety, and stress were significant, with 28%, 19%, and 23% of attorneys, respectively, experiencing symptoms.
Who are these attorneys, and why do they suffer these symptoms? It seems counterintuitive that attorneys should be so afflicted. Well-educated, usually well-compensated, and generally respected (if grudgingly) they are not the type of people commonly perceived as alcoholics or addicts. So what is going on?
It turns out that an examination of the nature of addiction, especially the manner by which it first gains its grip on its victims, alongside a look at some central and unique traits of the legal profession, sheds some light on this question. Addiction, which includes alcoholism, is widely regard as a chronic, progressive and fatal brain disease characterized by craving of the substance involved, escalating and eventual compulsive use in spite of negative consequences, and ultimately an inability to control or stop using. It is not a choice, or a malady inflicted from outside the sufferer, but rather the result of a process, which begins when an individual first uses a chemical to change the way they feel. Drugs and alcohol are chemical shortcuts, ways to artificially and quickly achieve a desired result. These can be generally characterized as “up”; more energy and focus (stimulants from coffee to Adderal to methamphetamine), “down”; relaxation and stress relief (depressants from alcohol to tranquilizers to opiates), “around”; temporary escape (perception changers such as marijuana and psychedelics), and “off”; (sleep medications). Often, initial use is quite effective and is perceived as providing a benefit. Usually there are no immediate negative consequences. This encourages repetition of the behavior. The attraction is that the substances usually work better than any natural way of achieving the desired state. The problem is that the substances are addictive, which means that users become habituated and then dependent on them and they eventually stop working, causing the use of higher doses, with the attendant negative side effects. In short, every drug has its desired effects, and its unwanted side effects. With addictive drugs, the side effects include impaired thinking and memory, personality changes, behavioral deterioration, and eventual dysfunction, negatively impacting every facet of life.
The legal profession is fertile ground for sowing the seeds of substance use for a multitude of reasons too numerous to cover in a short article. They include the following:
- The “lawyer personality”. There is general agreement among those who have studied the psyche of lawyers that many share a common profile of personality traits. (See, e.g., Lawyer Know Thyself: A Psychological Analysis of Personality Strengths and Weaknesses. Susan Daicoff, 2004). A partial list includes: controlling, ego-driven, competitive, judgmental, pessimistic, argumentative, anxious, self-centered, grandiose, and compulsive.) Some of these seem to inhere in those who select law as a career, however it is well-documented that the traditional law school educational style and socialization process greatly reward and exacerbate these traits. It turns out that this profile is uncanny in the degree to which it overlaps with the consensus “addict personality” profile. This means that many lawyers are predisposed by personality to be susceptible to addiction.
- High compensation and hourly billing. Most people who are compensated as well as attorneys simply do their jobs and receive their paychecks. Lawyers bill by the hour, in increments of 6 minutes. They are under tremendous pressure to bill hours, and the time is expensive and must be justified. This creates for many lawyers a strange perception and a chronic shortage of time, which spills over into their personal life. When there is never enough time, shortcuts become attractive. A stimulant can substitute for a nap, a drink for meditation or other natural means to relax, a joint for a vacation, or an Ambien for proper sleep habits.
- The adversarial system. Many advanced professions involve congenial cooperation towards common goals. (think medicine, architecture, engineering) But lawyers often do battle with each other in a public forum, with great consequence. The pressure to win is enormous. Who else does this? Professional athletes do. In both cases, whether it’s the Super Bowl or a five million dollar verdict, the temptation to gain an advantage with performance enhancing drugs is enormous, and both athletes and lawyers succumb at problematic rates. However, athletes get tested, get caught, and are compelled to quit, or forfeit their careers. Lawyers are not tested, with the result that the problem usually goes on for longer and becomes much worse before it is addressed.
- Advocacy for others. Attorneys represent the interests of their clients, which they are duty-bound to pursue, whether they agree or disagree with the result sought or the effects caused. They are told to divorce themselves from moral responsibility for the outcome, as long as they follow the law and adhere to the code of ethics. This is not always an easy task.
People generally want to feel good, and people of substance want to do this by feeling they are good people who do good things for good reasons. Playing an instrumental role in achieving an outcome that is inconsistent with one’s personal values can cause cognitive dissonance; a discomfort with conflicting values or with reconciling behavior that is not consistent with held values. If one has a fundamental value conflict with a result worked for and achieved, it is often of little consolation that the effort was “for the client” and the law and rules of ethics were followed. The law and the rules of ethics are minimum standards, not morality. They are not aspirational, but represent that below which we cannot go without getting into trouble. This conundrummakes attorneys particularly susceptible to quieting the dissonance in their brain with alcohol.
The result of the pressure exerted by the legal profession is, per the Krill report discussed above, a lot of lawyers in trouble with drugs and alcohol. The problem is aggravated by the barriers to getting the needed assistance. First, lawyers are problem solvers. They are not in the habit of asking for help or showing weakness. They solve other people’s problems, they don’t have problems! They are called counselors, they don’t need counseling! Next, the stigma of addiction is pervasive. Although a disease according to no less an authority than the AMA, addiction is still widely considered a moral failure, and lawyers often perceive their most valuable asset to be their reputation, which they are terrified of sullying with the stigma of addiction. Further, many attorney personality traits (see above
) cause major challenges to embracing new ways of thinking associated with successful recovery. Finally, the pressures of work and the inflexibility of schedules often raise significant strategic obstacles to allocating the time off necessary to go to treatment.
How to identify the alcoholic or addict lawyer? This questionnaire, adapted for lawyers from a longstanding and widely-used treatment assessment tool, is designed to identify a level of alcohol or other substance use which is adversely affecting professional competence, and likely to require treatment.
1. Are my associates, clients, or support personnel alleging that my alcohol/drug use is interfering with my work?
2. Do I plan my office routine around my alcohol/drug use?
3. Am I fooling myself into believing that drinking at business lunches is really necessary?
4. Do I ever feel I need alcohol/drugs to face certain situations?
5. Do I frequently use alcohol/drugs alone?
6. Because of my alcohol/drug use, have I ever had a loss of memory when I was apparently conscious and functioning?
7. Has my ambition or efficiency decreased since I began to drink or use drugs?
8. Do I ever use alcohol/drugs before meetings or court appearances to calm my nerves, gain courage, or improve performance?
9. Do I want, or take, alcohol/drugs first thing in the morning?
10. Have I missed or adjourned closings, court appearances or other appointments because of my alcohol/drug use?
11. Due to my use of alcohol/drugs, have I ever felt any of the following: fear, remorse, guilt, real loneliness, depression, severe anxiety, terror, or a feeling of impending doom?
12. Is alcohol/drug use making me careless of my family’s welfare or of other personal responsibilities?
13. Does my alcohol/drug use lead me to questionable environments or acquaintances?
14. Have I neglected food, hygiene, health care?
15. Have I ever neglected my office administration or misused funds because of my alcohol/drug use?
16. Am I becoming increasingly reluctant to face my clients or colleagues in order to hide my alcohol/drug use?
17. Have I ever had the shakes, the sweats, or hallucinations as the result of my alcohol/drug use?
18. Do I lie to hide the amount I am drinking or using drugs?
19. Could disturbed or fitful sleeping be the result of my alcohol/ drug use?
20. Have I avoided important social, occupational or recreational activities as a result of my alcohol/drug use?
If you have answered YES to more than one of the above questions, it may be time to seek help.
Fortunately, the Krill study was instrumental in starting a significant movement within the profession to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem and put in place some systemic solutions. Most notably, The ABA’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being, published, in 2017, a comprehensive report entitled: The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change
. This groundbreaking and excellent report is required reading for anyone who professes concern about the state of the legal profession. Among other astonishing observations, the report notes a decrease in civility contributing to the toxicity of practicing law and finds that the current state of affairs is “incompatible with a sustainable legal profession.” It demands that every sector of the legal community acknowledge the problem, take responsibility, and implement concrete measures to make positive change, and provides detailed recommendations for all the stakeholders. It is a truly impressive, meticulous and inspiring piece of work, and provides some long overdue reason for optimism regarding the possibility of a future populated by healthy, happy, and well-adjusted lawyers.
35th Annual IPMA Conference & Expo Wrap-up
By: Ciara Hodges, Association Coordinator, IPMA
The International Practice Management Association held its 35th Annual Conference and Expo on October 23-25, 2019, at the Hyatt Regency Seattle in Seattle, WA. With increased member attendance and a sold-out expo hall, having the conference in Emerald City was a win-win for everyone! The educational program featured a variety of sessions on practice support management topics, including Creating a Successful Team Assistant Program: How to Grow Your Own Assistants, Recruitment & Interviewing: How to Use the Latest Technology, Developing a Paralegal Orientation Program and Educating and Hybrid Paralegals: How to Supervise Paralegals who Perform Secretarial Duties.
Keynote speakers included Aaron Levy, who taught attendees The Future of Work: How to Lead a Multi-Generational Workforce and gave them the confidence to start grooming the younger generations at work. Merit Gest touched on How We Influence Others and What Has Influence Over Us and shed some insight on the specific mindsets, actions and skills that control influences. Tracy Daniels blew everyone away with his presentation about mental health in the workplace and how to deal with it. Among the other plenary sessions at the Conference were the popular IPMA Talk Live Roundtable session and the dual (U.S. and Canada) sessions on hot topics in HR.
Participating IPMA Business Partner members and other industry service providers contributed to the event’s success at the annual Expo by networking with attendees and showing off their wares! The Expo Hall was full of exhibitors that were up-to-date in the legal industry and ensured that their services and products would help all of the members Lead Teams in an Evolving Workplace!
In addition to all of the networking, everyone got a pair of IPMA branded socks to help them Educate, Innovate and Motivate more comfortably. The IPMA decided to use socks to be able to see how far their reach travels. The IPMA has members all across the United States and Canada. The IPMA encouraged their members to take photos with their socks using #IPMATravelingSocks as the identifier on all social platforms.
The IPMA Annual Business Meeting Luncheon recognized the incoming President, and new members of the Board of Directors, as well as several IPMA members who were celebrated for their service and contributions to the IPMA and the legal community. Former IPMA President Laura Porter handed the torch to Patty Maxwell with a tiara. President Maxwell has vowed to continue to lead the Association to success and keep the Just One Thing movement alive. However, she wants members to do Just One More Thing in 2020. The 2019-2020 Board of Directors were happy to take on the roles of their predecessors and make sure that the Association doesn’t lose sight of its mission and goals for 2020. Each year the Association recognizes outstanding members and chapters that go above and beyond for the IPMA. Tara Kim Eberhart received the President’s Award. Susan Atkins received the Rising Star Award. Michelle Hess, Toni Marsh, and Patricia Hartnett received the On the Spot Award. The Communications Committee received the Strength of Many Award.