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SuperConference panelists offer advice on how to lead change in your legal department

It’s important to see change as a process, not an event

Change is inevitable, so everyone says, and we should just learn to embrace it. But that can be easier said than done, as speakers at SuperConference Day Two session “Embracing Change Within Your Legal Department” noted.

“We’re all supposed to like change and it is often exciting … but actually implementing change in any organization, especially a legal department, is challenging,” says Lee Cheng, chief legal officer and senior vice president at

Colleen Batcheler, executive vice president and general counsel at ConAgra Foods, referenced the “laundry list of to-dos” that general counsel face, including controlling costs, improving efficiency and supporting new business. When it comes time to implement a specific change, Cheng and Batcheler suggest following the eight-step process laid out by John P. Kotter in “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail:”

  1. Establish sense of urgency
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower others to act on the vision
  6. Plan for and create short-term wins
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce more change
  8. Institutionalize new approaches

“Many, if not most, significant change initiatives fail,” Batcheler says. The reason for this, she claims, is because lawyers can often “think of change as an event instead of a process.”

“Significant change is a long journey and fatigue can quickly set in,” she says. It’s important, as the leader of a change initiative, to remember your original vision and continue to communicate with the other people involved to keep things moving.

“Remember that not everyone else has this as their top priority,” Batcheler says. “You have to remind them why it’s important.

Batcheler and Cheng also shared stories of challenges they have faced trying to implement change at their own companies. Cheng described trying to build a document management program from scratch at NewEgg, and struggles his team had with a glitchy program and expensive consultants. After three years of trying to make the system work, they had to scrap it.

“The takeaway from this case study is to be very honest when you try to implement change and acknowledge if there are errors,” Cheng says.


Read more about other SuperConference panels on InsideCounsel:

SuperConference 2013: How to effectively use technology to manage law departments

SuperConference 2013: Ethics Boot Camp

SuperConference panel discusses the state of labor in the age of Obama

Keynote roundup: SuperConference 2013 day 1

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