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After the Bar

Professional Development

10 Tips for New Lawyers Wanting to Suggest Changes at Work

Stephen E Embry


  • Despite the legal profession's historical resistance to change, new lawyers with an entrepreneurial mindset can bring about change if they are well-prepared, respect others' opinions, know their audience, and seek allies.
  • Be persistent in the face of rejection and, if ideas consistently face resistance, reflect on whether the firm aligns with an entrepreneurial spirit in a changing legal landscape.
10 Tips for New Lawyers Wanting to Suggest Changes at Work
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Young lawyers can often be the catalysts for change in the workplace by virtue of their familiarity and comfort with technology and because they look at things with fresh eyes. Young lawyers have not yet been burdened with a “we've always done it this way” attitude.

While we all know change is inevitable, it is not always easy. Many of us shudder and groan at the thought of change and most consciously or subconsciously resist change. That is why successfully suggesting change can be daunting, especially in the workplace.

As a profession, lawyers have historically resisted change. For all these reasons, it is often hard for young lawyers to suggest changes. The mere idea of talking to older lawyers who have seniority and clout in a firm can be intimidating. From experience, it can be stifling for young lawyers and, for that matter, even more experienced lawyers to speak up and suggest a change.

Bringing change takes work and commitment. To help with suggesting change and hopefully allay your fears, here are my 10 tips for approaching and advocating change as a young—and not so young—lawyer.

1. Be Entrepreneurial

Being entrepreneurial is an attitude all lawyers, especially young lawyers, should have. When it comes to making change suggestions, think like an entrepreneur. Look for things that could result in more business or reduce costs. If you suggest something that can result in more efficient work, remember that lawyers bill by the hour in most firms. If you are in one of these firms, couch your suggestion in terms of how the change will improve client service or get a better result--not necessarily in reducing billable hours.

2. Be Prepared When You Make a Suggestion

Think through the ramifications and issues. Test your "pitch" on others. If possible, have data to back up what you are suggesting. See if other firms are doing what you are proposing. (Law firms hate to be first.) Remember, when you talk to partners, you are taking away billable time—so make it worth it.

3. Create Supporting Materials

Consider creating a formal presentation like an entrepreneur would when seeking venture capital. But be prepared to deviate from your script if the situation demands it. Nothing will lose a lawyer’s attention faster than telling them something they already know.

4. Be Respectful

You should listen to and honor the opinions of those with more experience than you. And do not assume you know more about the technology that may be involved. You might. But then again, you might not.

5. Know Your Audience

Do some research on the person you are talking to, even if you are in the same firm. Tailor your pitch to that person, not a generic one.

6. Get an Ally

Having someone with you who can help with the pitch never hurts. Preferably, get someone who has been around longer and knows the playing field. If you suggest something involving tech, try to have someone from your IT department with you for support. If you do not have an IT department, then at least try for someone who is tech-savvy.

7. Be Prepared to Take Small Bites

Be realistic—if you suggest something that will change the whole law firm or how it does things, it will be a hard sell at first. But asking to try something on a small scale just to see how it works is easier. And if it works, it gets easier to expand it later.

8. If You Do Not Succeed, Approach Defeat Gracefully

Ask yourself where things went wrong. Was it how you pitched it? Or was there something wrong with the idea? Do not give up too easily: it takes time to evolve ideas, and the feedback may help you later. Just like any entrepreneur, you will likely face rejection from time to time. The trick to success is to learn from those rejections.

9. Be Prepared for Inertia

It is easy for your audience to say your idea is interesting; let me think about it. But that can be an easy way to say no. Be prepared to offer the next steps, again small in nature. Your goal is to keep things moving toward a real decision.

10. Observe How Others Are Treated

If your ideas are not accepted or discounted routinely, look around and see how others are treated. If you are in one of those firms that resist all change, ask yourself the hard question of whether this is the kind of firm where you want to be. Remember, you are an entrepreneur. If you are not with other entrepreneurs or if your firm abhors the entrepreneurial spirit, that’s a red flag at a time when the legal industry is rapidly changing.