I would like to share what I have noticed when discussing innovation with lawyers:
Junior – mid level lawyers craving new ways of thinking and new tech procedures to allocate work and handle more mundane or repetitive legal tasks
Senior lawyers looking to technology to provide affordable and accurate services to clients.
A steadfast perception that advancing technology will never replace the ‘human touch’, especially for lawyers who don’t partake in ‘cookie cutter’ transactions.
Never-ending discussions on how to get buy-in from colleagues on the adoption of innovation at a team and organisational level.
Overall, what I notice is that overwhelmingly, the focus is on technology and the balance sheet and a need to weigh the cost of the technology against potential profits it promises to deliver.
Using technology rather than being innovative?
If we view innovation purely as technology that will cut costs, you could be forgiven for assuming the following:
That innovation is viewed as a ‘thing’ to hopefully create efficiencies rather than an approach that is directly embedded in the practice of law.
There is considerable focus on delivering existing services in more modern ways (e.g. updating clients and stakeholders by way of a podcast rather than an emailed bulletin) rather than embarking on a full redevelopment of the client/stakeholder experience.
‘High tech’ options are the first port of call to produce the same (or slightly enhanced) product or service more quickly and cheaply, rather than rethinking the product altogether.
The driving forces behind the adoption of ‘innovation’ are either fear (the desire to remain competitive) or ambition (the desire to get out front and lead the pack).
I wonder if using the latest technology is enough to remain competitive or gain a competitive edge, or is a much deeper transformation of lawyers into truly innovative beings required?
Path to genuine innovation
Here are some hurdles I believe lawyers will have to overcome in order to evolve into innovative beings:
Focusing on the journey rather than the result: If lawyers are too concerned about the end product they could miss being open to new ways of enhancing the client experience. They might also overlook the importance of working with their clients to design the best outcome. To what extent are aspects of new product development strategy being implemented between lawyers and their clients and stakeholders?
Moving with agility between being a risk taker and being risk adverse: To be effective in the role of a lawyer (identifying and advising on risk) and innovator (taking risk) lawyers might have to come up with ways of shifting their risk comfort level. I see practices used in emotional agility being particularly helpful here.
Creating environments where failure is tolerated and perhaps even celebrated: Lawyers will have to confront their own perceptions of failure, as well as creating environments where team members are genuinely safe to fail. Naturally, this acceptance of failure would need to co-exist with attentiveness, precision and prudence around the actual advice and performance of legal services for clients and stakeholders.
Making and taking time away from work to increase creativity: While it is no secret that sleep, rest and time away from work enhances creativity, I suspect a number of lawyers who avoid (or don’t engage in) discussions around innovation do so because they don’t feel they have the bandwidth to even think about it. Lawyers wanting to be more innovative or lead innovative teams will need to prioritise rest and time away from the ordinary. Studies have shown:
that sleep and rest fosters the making of unusual connections and the enhancement of relational memory https://www.pnas.org/content/104/18/7723
walking inspires creativity https://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414/ and
unusual environments can create creative performance at work. https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/AMJ.2006.22798182
Choosing an inspiring driver for change: I would urge lawyers to deeply consider what is driving their desire for innovation. Are you inspired by a fear of being left behind or replaced by a computer? Is providing clients with a cheaper service or product something that inspires you? Or could you be inspired to create an experience that meets clients’ expectations and allows lawyers to lead fulfilling lives, both inside and outside of work?
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