Most legal tech companies understand the influential dynamic law firm staffers play in tech purchases. But law firms must also consider if reluctance to change is fuelling negative staff feedback.
By Victoria Hudgins
A managing partner or the firm’s executive committee may have the final say in tech purchases, but they are by no means the only decision makers. At the end of the day, law firm staffers wield significant power in advocating and nixing a tech purchase. Legal tech companies, therefore, need to make sure they’re understanding and addressing staffers’ unique challenges to obtain that crucial buy-in.
According to the American Bar Association’s 2020 “Legal Technology Survey Report,” 41 percent of lawyer respondents said staff feedback is “very influential” in their tech purchases. Peers (33 percent), consultants (28 percent) and expert reviews (22 percent) were also important resources in respondents’ tech purchasing decisions.
To be sure, tech companies building a relationship and targeting marketing to law firm support staff is nothing new, explains Edge Marketing Inc. PR and marketing consultant Jennifer Marsnik.
“Back in the days of sales teams, they used to bring cookies to the paralegals because they wanted to have a really good relationship with the staff,” she said. “They knew in certain firms, it depends on the culture and the firm, [and] the staff has a lot of influence.”
But beyond knowing if a staffer prefers chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, tech companies must also understand the staffers’ workflow needs.
“You want to understand what is useful to them, how would your product or service help them do better,” said Legal Tech Media Group co-founder Cathy Kenton. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s faster or cheaper. It could be your influencer is someone that wants to get their job done and go home at night and not worry about the work. If you know that’s an important factor in this particular buyer persona, then you want to address that in your content, in your demo and delivery.”
If staffers don’t see a benefit or improvement from the technology, their silence or apprehensions could kill a sale.
“I don’t think a partner is going to make a decision unless the influencer says this is great,” said Plat4orm public relations specialist Bob Berger. “I don’t think you’ll get a lot of partners to override because they’re not going to use the product, they need the staffer to say this is a great product and this will save time.”
While staffers have significant influence, not all legal tech providers understand that. Berger noted he previously learned that wording doesn’t resonate across all demographics within a law firm.
“When I was VP of marketing at Catalyst, we were hammering on technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning. That would kind of influence staff or influencers, but it was a little more [of] talking into the echo chamber,” he said. Later, the company analysed terms and found phrasing that included “deadlines” and “cost” connected with support staff.
However, some new legal tech entrants still underestimate the power of staff’s advocacy, Marsnik noted. But other legal tech companies insist staffers take part in demonstrations to witness the benefits and become staunch advocates.
“We make sure we are talking to the different groups and solve their problem,” said SimpleLegal CEO and founder Nathan Wenzel. ”The lawyer doesn’t really care about the integration into the [financial management] system, but the finance person really cares about the integration.”
To be sure, obtaining staff feedback is also crucial for law firms to determine inefficiencies or needs, noted Taft Stettinius & Hollister chief information officer Andrea Markstrom.
“I look at it as if the technology is going to be adopted, we need to know there’s a need. That need is not going to come from the technology [department]. It came from our users,” she said.
But with any feedback, firms must also consider staffers’ reluctance toward change when weighing criticism. “What we have to evaluate from a technology perspective is, is this a fear of change or really impactful? At the end of the day, what’s the value to the firm?” said Benesch CIO Jerry Justice.
“Because we’re really in a change management game. Our goal is to always evolve. We know in doing that people are naturally going to resist. Change is hard for a lot of people,” he added. (