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How to Start an Innovation Initiative at your Law Firm

How to Start an Innovation Initiative at your Law Firm

I have come across some great literature around innovation, knowledge management, and intrapreneurship. The common theme that is clear across them all is that the legal profession is moving into a new age: the innovation age. Or, as Michele DeStefano puts it in her book, Legal Upheaval, it’s an Innovation Tournament. Those that don’t join in will get left behind, it’s time to jump on the innovation train in whatever capacity you can.

DeStefano discusses three avenues that will allow you, as a firm, to participate in said tournament. Intrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship, and Extrapreneurship. So what are all these ships that we need to sail?

Intrepreneurship is the concept of disrupting from within. Finding new and efficient ways to make the daily grind for lawyers a bit more bearable. To take away the mundane and monotonous tasks that consume a lawyer’s workflow and replace it with automated software that can take the hassle away. This can also be a new process, not just a new piece of technology. Anything that you create within your firm helps the people working in your firm have a more streamlined workflow.

By Entrepreneurship, we refer to the abundant legal start-ups and ALSP (Alternative Legal Service Providers) who are taking low value tasks that a lawyer might do, and finding new and exciting ways of simplifying or automating the process. Having been at the forefront of this movement and a contributor, I can say that these companies are really pushing the needle forward to improve the legal profession. Entrepreneurship is even more important for smaller firms who don’t have the resources to bring these tasks in-house. and for a greater offering of solutions for firms to choose from when trying to resolve the problems faced by their legal professionals.

Lastly, Extrapreneurship or what I call the hybrid. When a firm takes on the challenge of solving their own problems within the firm and sharing the solutions with the world. Taking innovation to the next level! Great examples of this are Dentons’ NextLaw Lab, Clifford Chance’s Create+65, Linklaters’ Innovation Lab, and many many more. These are an extension of the firm but essentially standalone businesses too. They take the problems of the lawyers in these firms and find solutions, which they then offer to the firm, and anyone else that wants to purchase it. I think this is by far my favorite because law firms understand the problems but are still outsourcing the solution-finding. meaning that they are hiring experts who understand technology, change management, and innovation to create the solutions. Some of these experts are ex-lawyers, some are law grads, others have experience as IT professionals in a law firm, and some just love tech.

How can I join the innovation train?

Having highlighted the most common forms of innovation circulating the legal profession now, which train are you going to board? What’s your strategy for starting an innovation initiative in your firm? Here are a three ways that you can start small:

1.     The 3-4-5 Method of Innovation (again borrowing from Michele DeStefano): this process is divided into three phases with five iterative steps over four months. Going into any innovation project with the mindset of iterative steps is always good because the concepts of failing fast and keep trying until you find the right solution is at the heart of innovation and key to success. Essentially, there are a combination of webinars, virtual meeting, and project development. Lawyers will get creative and think of potential solutions to problems they are facing and coaching on how to innovate better, faster, and smarter from the experts in the firm. These are the iterative stages that may take a few go’s before you reach any real substance but it’s a great way to introduce and teach innovation in your firm. (You can read more about this process here)

2.    Design Thinking workshop (borrowing from Nikki Shaver – listen to her episode where she talks about this on the Fringe Legal Podcast): in a similar vain but on a smaller scale, you could run design thinking workshops in your firm with a small group of interested parties and then expand it out to others. You could do it by practice groups or type of lawyer (Senior, Associate, 1st years etc.) because each group will have their own problems to solve. Cross-functional is often more valuable because sometimes the answer lies in the firm where another group has found the solution but it just hasn’t been shared firm wide. Nikki also emphasizes that it is good idea to invite a Consultant or expert in Design Thinking for the first session to offer perspective and insight.

3.    Four pillars/buckets of innovation (borrowing from Kate Simpson – listen to her episode where she talks about this on the Fringe Legal Podcast): this is more of a process on interpreneurship but a great one to follow especially if you are newly starting a KM/Innovation team. Kate speaks of the four pillars/buckets that she runs her KM team on:

a.    Research and Development: finding new tech or processes and seeing what’s out in the market. Find out the current process, speak to lawyers, and find out what is working and what needs revision/updating.

b.    Precedents and Playbooks: consolidating content across the firm and documenting methods, processes, and instructions on how the firm functions using different software.

c.     Training: training lawyers, legal professionals and staff on the new processes and technology implemented within the firm.

d.    Practice innovation: this goes to the heart of project management, processes and pricing. By this, I mean that you take a deep dive into how things are being done now and analyze them to determine whether they are still working or if they could be improved, need revision, or change completely. Where R&D looks more at technology, practice innovation looks at the processes and methodology of the firm’s practice.

Why not give it a go?

Start small but do start. Nothing worth doing is easy and you won’t find the answers straightaway. Take it from me, as a KM Consultant, this is what gets me up in the morning! Much of the excitement lies in finding the solution or a better method/process. As an old friend of mine liked to say, anticipation is half the fun!

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