Legal ops

How to manage change in a new legal ops department

Manage Legal Change-01

Now that you've made your first legal ops hire and gotten a few wins under your belt, the next step in building out a legal ops function is to develop and execute a change management plan.

The introduction of a legal ops department will bring about a vast change in the processes, technology, and culture within a company. In order to get buy-in from the rest of the organization, a change management plan needs to be created, implemented, and communicated.

Change management is the people, tools, and processes needed to get an organization or a department from one state of being to another.

Change management is inherent to the legal ops role, as it moves the legal department from a cost center to one that drives efficiency and change. Often, this needs to be communicated by a lawyer for maximum buy-in.

Before the plan: 5 Ws of Change Management

Before executing change, it is important to know where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there effectively. Therefore, to execute change management, think of the 5 Ws:

WHO will the change impact

It is important to know who in the organization will be most impacted by the change. Generally, the entire business will be impacted, but some departments and personnel will be impacted more than others. Knowing the who will allow you to make more informed decisions about the changes you are implementing and the ways you execute this change.

WHAT benefits are there to the change

Most people are resistant to change. However, if you can explain how this will benefit other employees and departments, as well as the business as a whole, then you are more likely to get buy in. Benefits typically include more efficient processes, less time spent on mundane tasks, and cost savings.

WHEN will it all be executed

Changing processes that people have grown used to and introducing new technology that spurs new behavior will take time — not only to implement but to adjust to. As a result, a timeline will be helpful for managing expectations. How long do you anticipate the roll-out to be? By when should you expect full adaption of whatever change is being introduced? How long will training take and where in the timeline does it fall?

WHERE to expect pushback

Probably everywhere. There’s no way you can try to change the fundamental ways people have been doing things, especially ways that have been working for them all this time, and not expect pushback. (Some people might even pushback for dumb reasons, but it’s still gonna happen.) Anticipating defiance and preparing responses for why this is a good thing can also help change go more smoothly.

WHY change

This might be one of the biggest questions, and one that will be asked frequently. Even if you know change needs to happen, it’s important to consider the why. This will help you when communicating to the wider organization and help you understand how to craft the change management strategy and plan to best suit your organization’s needs.

What will be changing?

Knowing what will be changing can help you do a better job outlining the change. The three main changes will involve PROCESSES, TECHNOLOGY, and CULTURE


The legal department will move away from manual tasks and working in silos and towards automation and cross-functional collaboration. This changes how legal interact and therefore carry out tasks, including measuring their efforts, engaging outside counsel, and how the GC reports to the rest of the C-Suite. The change management plan should outline the changes in processes.


In an effort to reduce spend and increase efficiency, many legal ops departments will adopt technology to take over some of the tasks that would be outsourced — for example, eBilling, e-signature and clickwrap, and matter management. Determine what technology you want for what purpose and then create a change management plan for adoption and training.


The definition of culture within a company is malleable and interpreted differently in each organization. But as the processes in a business change, the feelings associated with it, the way work gets done, and the interaction between employees change alongside it. The change management plan should account for and outline the expectations of this.

Key Aspects of the Change Management Plan

Three key aspects of the change management plan are Communication and Engagement, Education, and Credibility.

Communication & Engagement

In order for people to be on board with the plan to change the processes, technology, and culture, they need to know what the plan is. Communication is crucial at this time, and involves outlining the 5 Ws of the change management pre-plan to employees inside and outside of the legal department. And more than just telling them what is to be done, ask for their input, as they might have better ideas about how to execute a change in their respective departments.

Communication needs its own strategy. What will you communicate, how often, and how? Think outside the box — rather than sending emails every day, host quarterly forums, Lunch n Learns, or scheduled automated Slack messages.


Engage employees in the decision and educate them on key changes. This creates more buy-in and more employee advocacy. Explain the what and the why, and show them the how. This includes training legal on being more sophisticated buyers of technology and on using the technology to do things like vendor management, accruals, budgeting, and analytics. Training people on new technology and ways to use them effectively will help more with adoption.

Being credible upon execution

Essentially, follow through. If you give employees a timeline, obey it. If you communicate changes to processes, ensure that that applies to everyone equally. If there are specific outcomes promised, ensure that the things you change meet those outcomes. If there’s something you can no longer follow through on, communicate that to team members and other employees (see point 1). Otherwise, you’ll begin to lack credibility among employees and adoption of changes will become an even more arduous task.

Addressing pushback against change

Inevitably, there will be pushback against some of the changes to be implemented by legal ops. Some people will have valid concerns; some won’t. Be prepared to address some of those concerns as part of the communication and engagement strategy in the change management.

If you want to build a new legal ops department, or your new legal ops department is just getting off the ground and you want to achieve foundational competency, download our eBook, Building a Legal Ops Department from Scratch

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