Why Empathy Is Necessary for the Successful Delivery of Legal Technology

The new year has officially begun—and with it, we’ve seen an onslaught of 2020 predictions and 2019 retrospectives highlighting just how much the legaltech sector is changing and how far the industry still has to go. One area in which this is particularly apparent is technology implementation—a field in which I’ve worked for over two decades.

Of course, the quality of the technology matters. But that’s only the first step in any law firm’s relationship with a vendor. In a series of blog posts from 2019, Nikki Shaver, Managing Director of Innovation and Knowledge at Paul Hastings, brilliantly laid out the best practices for vendors selling to law firms (and as importantly, what not to do). But I believe that even the world’s greatest product will fail if it’s not conscientiously implemented. For that reason, there’s one critical element in legaltech delivery which for me stands head and shoulders above other considerations–and that’s empathy.

Below, I’ve laid out my key principles for ensuring that empathy is present during every stage of a technology deployment at a law firm.

Prioritize user satisfaction and engagement above all else

To begin with, vendors should want customers to be nothing less than consistently delighted with the service they receive. From the moment a contract is signed, the vendor’s mission must be to make the daily experience of using its product a rewarding one for each individual and for the firm as a whole.

Vendors must strive to be relatable to the firm and the people within it and to know their audience. For instance, it should be recognized that people are very busy and that it’s a challenge to find space for a new application, even if in the end that application will free some of that busy time.

Listen first to ensure delight

Empathy continues with the understanding that each firm, department, and individual has different needs. At the beginning of each engagement, vendors should seek to learn what makes that firm tick. This equips them to deploy the product in ways that will resonate and be effective for the firm. It also enables vendors to tailor their messaging and delivery style to meet the needs of each user group.

Vendors should talk to technologists, partners, associates, lawyers, paralegals, and assistants. Sometimes a firm’s first instinct is to only include partners in initial discussions. But if the firm wants assistants to use the new tech effectively, their voices also need to be heard so that their needs are considered as well.

Vendors should then make a point of tailoring each interaction to match the needs of the individual in front of them. Some people are very to the point; some are much chattier. Empathy means not torturing people who are in a hurry with long-winded discussions; or cutting someone else off with a terse reply when they’re looking for a deeper understanding.

A big question is how does the firm want to approach the implementation? The majority want to trial a small-scale initial deployment. In which case the pilot group should include representatives of all the roles that will use the app in due course.

Other firms prefer a “big bang” approach or a region-by-region/office-by-office roll-out. Vendors should listen and adapt to what’s wanted, creating tailored project plans with key stakeholders and inputs from the right voices.

Importantly, implementations should be based on each firm’s distinctive culture—because every firm is unique. For instance, with a product like ZERØ that automates filing emails into document management systems, we make it a point to understand firms’ governance attitudes and practices before beginning deployment. While some firms emphasize strict governance where everyone files everything into the DMS immediately, others feel genuinely uncomfortable with that way of working. Tailoring the delivery to the specific culture of each firm has a real impact on its success.

Build adoption by customizing training and follow-up to users

Once the product’s been rolled out, empathy will build adoption during the training phase. It’s worth saying that training does matter and shouldn’t be skipped. Yes, today’s products are often intuitive. But it’s unlikely that people can see all of the functionality straightaway. To maximize a product’s capabilities and the benefits users can derive, training is really important.

That said, again, empathy means having a sensitive appreciation of everyone’s circumstances and needs. Vendors should appreciate the challenges faced by each group. If they’re talking to associates, for instance, they should be mindful of the fact that this is a group that can be exceptionally busy as they try to hit billable hour targets. Vendors would do well to tailor their approach accordingly.

Vendors can also customize training delivery so that each user–not just user group–has a positive experience. A well-established and successful approach that we use is running 45-minute “lunch and learn” sessions. But there will be people who want to be given a walk-through of the functionality in six minutes. Others will prefer that you sit at their desk for an hour. Whatever works for the individual user is what you should do, so that users enjoy the training process and end up with something that gives them real value.

It’s also important to recognize that the period of first use is crucial to the successful widespread adoption of new technology. So vendors need to stick around after training so they’re available to new users as and when needed in the critical first few days.

Use feedback to influence product development

Finally, empathy for users shouldn’t stop after implementation. Vendors should actively seek feedback that will be used to influence product development.

They should also seek to give as much ongoing value to firms as possible. For example, if our vendors want–and only if they want–ZERØ can process metrics for them that can provide key performance indicators and governance data, such as adoption rates, filing rates, and additional time realized. We also make an ongoing effort to ensure that firms engage with new product features when they’re released.

Make sure you have the right people on your team

The key throughout is that vendors have empathetic interactions with clients. And for that, they must recruit the right people for their client services teams in the first place. Ideally, they will be individuals with an end-to-end balance of expertise that includes people skills, technical product knowledge, a strong understanding of the legal sector, and the sensitivity to read and respond to each firm’s individual culture. They must also possess an innate desire to be helpful. Empathetic implementations then produce a high rate of technology adoption—which is why empathy is critical to success.

Learn more about how ZERØ’s applies these principles in its implementation process.


  • Trevor Bell

    As ZERØ’s Chief Customer Officer, Trevor is responsible for the entire journey for each customer, ensuring a single vision across all methods of customer contact. Over his 20+-year career, he has had the unique opportunity of working in many different roles, including as an accountant, technology specialist, business transformation specialist, project manager, people manager, organization leader, and consultant. He also has a passion for supporting his community and those he interacts with and is a Fire Fighter with his home municipality.