Making Change

I was taking in a Matlock rerun last week when, amidst hatching a plan to receive CLE credit for watching, I observed a hapless prosecutor on cross-examination asking case-damaging, open-ended and non-leading questions.

This caused me to snap back to a horrid memory of committing the same error in my trial techniques class in law school. My professor's public reprimand rattled in my head: "Mr. Martin, when conducting a cross-examination, never ever, ever ask a question that you don't know the answer to."

Shaking my head vigorously to escape the bizarre fusion of my professor's harangue and Matlock's sneering superiority, I recalled that as an in-house lawyer, I continued to make a similar mistake.

An effective trial lawyer is required to invest the time and preparation in knowing the outcome of the cross-examination before a single question is asked.

A compelling extension of this principle to the corporate setting involves the change initiatives we facilitate and champion. Like effective cross-examination, successful change management requires dedication to the outcome-assuring prework.

Change happens. Laws change. Regulatory enforcement agendas change. Businesses change. The in-house legal team is expected to respond with appropriate solutions to these changes. Our business partners require a legal team that excels in change management.

The following principles are not my original thinking, but a compilation of formal change management training and best practices of my many mentors who excelled in championing change. You may find them helpful.


These are the basic steps:

1. Identify the need for change. You are constantly monitoring the laws
and regulations that apply to your company. You are expected to recognize the need for change and effectively communicate that need to your clients.

2. Identify stakeholders. Identify the groups and individuals who are impacted by or have a stake in the change. Classify the stakeholders as potential change champions or change resistors.

3. Create a shared vision and plan. Meet with the stakeholders, confirm the need for change and begin enlisting support. Most importantly, identify specific points of resistance and adopt a plan to address them.

4. Ensure the change is durable. More time is spent on the initiation of the change than on its maintenance. For the change to be lasting, ongoing evaluation is required.


Be mindful of the following common errors. First, your role is to demonstrate why the change is necessary. In-house lawyers are subject matter experts, and many clients will not share your vision. You cannot sidestep this influencing step by simply informing stakeholders that the change is mandated by the law and you, as the lawyer, have made the decision. If the stakeholders don't get it, that is your problem.

Second, you need to plan for and dedicate the time necessary to follow these steps.

Finally, welcome feedback. Change is difficult, and this is the perfect time to employ your listening skills.

In-house lawyers continually manage change. Some change is strategic and momentous and other change is tactical. These principles are valuable for any type of change initiative that impacts others.

By applying them to your everyday change agenda, you will ensure that your proposed change will be embraced, even before the project is launched. (Cue my professor and Matlock's approving nods.)

Brian Martin

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