The Human Side of Legal Innovation: Four Takeaways from ILTACON 2022

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Sold out for the first time in its history, ILTACON 2022 provided a forum for lively discussion, networking, and celebration of industry innovation — and the fact that large, in-person events like this have come roaring back.

Educational sessions this year seemed to take on greater importance, with many rooms being filled to capacity. A pent-up demand for in-person learning, perhaps? Themes tied to the business of law, AI, and automation as expected, but there was also an increased focus on workplace issues and the people side of innovation in discussions heard throughout the week. A few key takeaways included:

Tap into community to innovate

A common theme heard in sessions and through conversation we had with clients and partners like Joy Tranel at Perkins Coie and Casey Flaherty at LexFusion is that networking and collaborating with your peers to stay on top of fast-moving technology trends is critical. “Knowing the universe of legal tech and having connectivity with peers matters more than ever,” said Tranel, during a video shoot for ILTA TV. In discussion with Flaherty on what he is seeing working in terms of innovation, he raised the importance of connecting with people who just solved the same problem, and learning from their experience. He also talked about the importance of “productive disagreements,” as debate often surfaces truly novel ideas. 

Win the battle for talent with a focus on employee engagement

DISCO’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Jignasha Amin Grooms, led a panel discussion on how to attract, retain, and engage employees during a tight job market. James Page, Chief Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at The Nature Conservancy, spoke about the need for companies to pay attention to managers who take care of employees, as well, saying, “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. We need to make sure that [the managers] feel appreciated which will motivate them to lead positively, and give managers access to the resources and trainings they need to be an effective leader and to treat their people well.” Falin McKenzie, attorney and leader of recruiting at the Dubin Law Group offered tips on how to attract and keep top talent engaged. She agreed with Page that keeping the managerial level satisfied is key to engagement. “Managers are the glue in the organization,” she said, recommending quarterly team meetings in person. 

When it comes to engaging employees, building a diverse, inclusive environment where people felt like they belonged was mentioned as an important commitment for organizations to make. Megan Lutes, General Counsel and Chief Human Resources Officer at Glowforge, described how companies could work harder to make sure they were attracting candidates when hiring that come from diverse backgrounds. “Scrutinize your job descriptions. Are your requirements unrealistic? For example, it’s a known fact that women will not apply to a job if they are missing one or two requirements, but most men will,” she said, She also recommended using tech to review your job descriptions, i.e. running them through Textio to see if requirements listed were inadvertently screening people out form applying for role. 

Adopt a lawyer-designed change management strategy 

In a session on change management, Julia Montgomery, Director, Solutions Advisory Group at Intapp, talked about research that points to some common lawyer characteristics, such as inherent skepticism and a strong sense of autonomy, that can help inform your change management strategies. A few of her tips to overcome resistance when working to build lawyer adoption of a new way of working or a new tool include:

  • Write like no one is scrolling: Lawyers are wordsmiths, so your communications are critical. Be brief and accurate, and keep in mind that the format, content, and timing are all vital. Focus on outcomes and efficiency improvements rather than technology.
  • Leverage rainmakers: Enlist high performers one-on-one as change champions and use their unique traits and persuasion abilities to help drive adoption. 
  • Get personal: Lawyers typically think change benefits don’t apply to them or that you don’t know enough about them or their practice to be able to help them. Do a little homework to learn how they work to prove to them that is not the case. 

Create and empower a legal team of the future through diverse teams and user-friendly tech

DISCO’s Kristin Zmrhal, VP, Product Strategy for corporations, and Katie DeBord, VP, Product Strategy for law firms, guided an advice-laden talk on how to build and equip a legal team to not just survive, but thrive during times of change. In discussing what a legal services delivery team of the future should look like, DeBord, who used to run innovation at Bryan Cave before joining DISCO, said “Multidisciplinary teams are a must. Beyond legal experts, you need people with operational prowess, data scientists and technologists who can help you to get the most out of your technology investments.”

When it comes to measuring the long-term success of a legal team, Bill Belt, managing director of Complete Discovery Source (CDS), advised that client satisfaction scores are the ultimate metric, saying, “When we not only help them win the case but also cut time off and reduce the cost of ediscovery, then it’s a win for us too.” Zmrhal raised the importance of keeping employee engagement high as a way to ensure client satisfaction, and noted that providing tech people actually enjoy using every day is an effective way to build employee happiness. When it comes to change management and ensuring the team members are getting on board with news ways of working, David Shargel, partner and ediscovery leader at Bracewell, said that he has seen a shift in lawyers actually understanding more about tech, yet at times there is still hesitation to try something new. He shares Montgomery’s view on change management and said that the best way to gain adoption is to explain and show how technology will save time. 

To summarize, many conversations from ILTACON 2022 solidified the importance of getting the human side of innovation right. For anyone leading the march on transformation within a law department or law firm, remember to keep your network close, help build a culture that keeps employees engaged, and consider a lawyer’s unique mindset and perspective when planning change management communications. 

To hear more insights from ILTACON 2022, listen to our post-conference podcast in which Zmrhal and DeBord talk about the observations and learnings with Bob Amborgi and Joe Patrice, columnists from Above the Law.

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Catherine Ostheimer

Catherine Ostheimer is vice president, marketing at DISCO. She has led branding, communications, marketing strategy, and execution for Fortune 500 companies and startups, with over seven years in the legal tech space.

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