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  • How can lawyers lead change within their own practices?
  • This article presents key findings from change management scholarship and interviews with change leaders in legal practice.
  • The four stages of change leadership are discussed: contemplation, preparation, implementation and maintenance.
  • Lawyers are ready for change, but they need good leadership and organisational cultures to get there.

We often hear that lawyers are not well equipped to manage change, a sentiment supported to some extent by research findings. This is research that says lawyers tend to be sceptical, pessimistic, perfectionistic and rigid. Yet, the profession faces increasing pressure to adapt and innovate, to be able to navigate and find opportunities in the wider, shifting environment.

How can lawyers lead change within their own practices? And how might lawyers be better at adapting to change? These are the driving questions of the Law Society’s Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession (‘FLIP’) research for 2019.

This article presents key principles from the change management literature as well as the findings of our interviews with change leaders currently working within legal practices. It steps through our model of change leadership for lawyers to use in practice. This model has four stages:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Preparation
  3. Implementation
  4. Maintenance and an ongoing goal

But first – leadership. Leadership is important when it comes to achieving change. In the writing on leadership, there has been a shift away from the ‘old model’ – centred on a single, ‘visionary’ leader who inspires trust and leads change – to a more adaptive, connective and relationship-focused style. This means leaders who challenge people, who scan the environment and draw attention to the contextual challenges for organisations, and then motivate and support workers through the change – some call this type of leader, ‘the guide along the side’.

The concept of adaptability in leaders was highlighted by Goleman who, in a (2001) study of over 3,000 executives around the world, identified a number of different leadership styles. Goleman noted that in practice, these leadership styles are like ‘golf clubs’ – used in different situations, as needed, to best fit the context. This style is generally seen as fitting better with contemporary organisations, which are less hierarchical, more open and more responsive to their external environments. It might be hard to think of law firms as flexible, ‘contemporary’ organisations, but features of this type of practice are required for successful change, and certainly the single leader pushing a change vision no longer works. Now to our model:

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