The concept of ‘innovation’ has taken on increasing prominence in the legal services industry in recent years. This trend takes many forms:

  • startup firms such as LegalVision have introduced a different model of law firm to the market;
  • legal technology providers are in a race to create the latest piece of technology that promises to dramatically reduce the time lawyers must spend on tasks; and
  • clients demand new models of service delivery, including alternative pricing structures and methods of service delivery.

The legal industry perceives innovation as very important. For some, the mere perception of being innovative can be a boon. Businesses who are innovators (or consider themselves as such) may be more inclined to work with a law firm that is seen as innovative. But perception is one thing, creating actual, lasting change is another.

What is Legal Innovation?

In our White Paper on NewLaw, we set out how we look at innovation through two different lenses:

  • facilitative innovation; and
  • experimental innovation.

We explored this distinction by looking at some of the technological advancements that have been introduced to the legal industry over the past few years. By ‘facilitative innovation’ we mean tools that support lawyers to promote the efficient delivery of legal services, while ‘experimental innovation’ refers to the generation and testing of ideas that could have a profound impact on the way we practice law or assist our clients.

Addressing Hurdles

Law firms and larger in-house teams may face significant hurdles to achieve facilitative or experimental innovation. We have summarised three key challenges in the table below.

Barrier Description
Structural barriers There are significant structural barriers to the wholesale introduction of new technologies or methodologies. These barriers include the partnership structure. Partners with competing interests, client bases and budgets won’t always agree on the value of investing time and resources into innovation.
Technological barriers Legacy systems such as IT infrastructure and practice management systems can create issues, especially when those systems have been chosen to ensure the security of documents and client information. Where these systems become fully integrated into an in-house team or firm’s day-to-day practice, it can be difficult to justify the expense or disruption that will come with adding things outside this ecosystem or having to change the system altogether.
Resource barriers Lawyers working both within a firm or large organisation will likely have work to do. Even the most innovative lawyers struggle to balance a full-time job and improve existing practices with new ideas.

In our view, law firms and in-house teams can overcome these hurdles, at least in part, by empowering an individual (or team) to explore and implement innovation as either part of their role or as a dedicated function

LegalVision’s growth and innovation team has eight members that explore opportunities for innovation. The team represents a wide cross-section of our business – legal, sales, accounting, strategy and management. Each team member has a different focus and retains some of the responsibilities from the teams that they represent. This ensures they maintain an awareness of the challenges that their respective teams face.

Our divide between a person’s daily duties and their innovation work is relatively fluid (achievable in a startup structure such as ours). However, depending on the organisation, there could be value in having people work in defined part time roles. This reduces the risk of your team’s innovation time being curtailed by the need to do their day-to-day jobs.

Keys to Success

Regardless of how you structure your innovation team, there are a couple of factors that will be crucial to achieving success. In our view, the most important of these are:

  • buy-in from management about the need to undertake the project;
  • a genuine desire to implement (at least some of) the innovations that the team proposes;
  • knowing what you are trying to achieve by innovating; and
  • keeping the end users of your services front of mind.

Without an acceptance from management that this is an exercise worth doing, and a commitment to following through on recommendations, creating an innovation team or appointing an innovation officer is nothing more than a PR exercise (and likely an expensive one).

Similarly, knowing what you want to achieve with your innovations and designing solutions for your end users are also critical to achieving useful innovations. Without clear goals, your team risks wasting time and resources seeking out innovations that won’t fulfil your ultimate aims.

Finally, unless you understand the perspectives of the people who will be using the innovations you implement, you risk creating something that will ultimately have a negative impact. Our recent article on legal process design looked at how organisations can use ‘design thinking’ to gain this understanding and create solutions with the end user in mind.

Getting Started

If you see room for improvement in how you do things, appoint someone who will spearhead your drive towards innovation, or seek people who would be interested in joining a team that can focus on innovation.

Once you have done that, empower them by making it clear that the business takes this seriously. Choose people who are self-starters, have curious minds, and an interest in doing things differently, then give them enough freedom to do what is needed, and enough boundaries to focus them on what you want to achieve. Make sure you set some deadlines and make it clear what output you seek. Finally, try to stick with it even if you don’t see results immediately.

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How does your legal team approach innovation? Let us know on our LinkedIn Page or get in touch with a member of our Growth and Innovation team on 1300 544 755.

James Gonczi
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