Law firms aren’t known for their innovative thinking. At least, they weren’t. Certainly, they have dragged their heels in embracing innovation and adapting to the new world order of LegalTech. Why’s that?
Maybe the answer’s found in a good ole lawyer joke. Why were law firms so slow to wake up to the innovation age? Answer: Innovation needs humans and they had to find one first.
But seriously. Let’s take a squiz at why many in the legal profession are stubbornly practicing law as they’ve always done. And how they really don’t need to resist the unavoidable transformation taking place.
Forces of Resistance in LegalTech and Innovation
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Oh … and that the legal profession is traditional. Let’s face it, legal culture was forged by white, middle-aged lawyers for their peer group. It’s not too surprising, then, that law practices are often rigid, risk-averse and inward looking. And resistant to change.
Temperament and training don’t help either.
Lawyers exhibit certain personality traits that put the kibosh on innovative thinking. Being inherently skeptical and less trusting than the general population, they have a high aversion to risk.
What’s more, lawyers believe only they can deliver legal services - services delivered by anyone else or by other means are inferior. They fear their value will decrease if they share their knowledge and processes with others in their firms. Innovation threatens their business models - especially hourly billing - and livelihoods. Lawyers remain afraid of technology and so avoid it. And, unfortunately, they generally lack competence in technology. Finally, they’re not taught in law schools to be innovative and entrepreneurial.
Deadly for the mindset, skills and behaviors needed for innovation, wouldn’t you say?
It’s Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It
But it ain’t all doom and gloom. There are sure signs that the pace of legal innovation has picked up in recent years.
Firstly, the LegalTech sector - those companies using technology and software to provide cheaper and more accessible legal services - has mushroomed. Companies such as Thomson Reuters, Integreon, Axiom, UnitedLex, Legalzoom and Contractbook are thriving.
And traditional law firms are responding to this disruption by leveraging LegalTech solutions. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em … They are commercializing e-Discovery services, investing in e-Discovery LegalTech firms, establishing innovation hubs and incubators and developing practice-focused solutions and apps.
Along with other types of initiatives. Just look at these:
- Australian firm Gilbert + Tobin - teaches its lawyers and clients the basics of computer coding. Why not make lawyers part of the technological changes, indeed?
- Allens - developed an in-house LawLab and incubator to test and explore new ideas. It also set up an “Innovation Underground” group for young lawyers, tasked purely with brainstorming new solutions, collaborations and innovations.
- King & Wood Mallesons - introduced Launchpad, a portal accessible to the entire firm where new ideas could be lodged. It also brought in clients, en masse, to talk to their lawyers about their challenges, their industry and their competition and what it is they need out of a legal advisor.
- Law schools are adding technology-focused and innovation-empowering courses to their curricula and mainstreaming ideation forums and hackathons.
In times of turbulence, the biggest danger is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Peter F. Drucker
Innovation may not come naturally to lawyers. But many are catching on to it. They recognise that to survive, they must innovate. Their clients and the market demand it. As one legal executive described it, “many law firms are still driving a 20-year-old Nissan Bluebird while our clients are now asking for a clean, green, electric Tesla”.
How to Shake Things Up
So what is it that innovative lawyers do differently? Well, it looks something like this:
- Foster a culture of innovation across the firm - they recognize ideas and change don’t necessarily come from the top, or a single source. Continuous improvement comes from a firm-wide view. They remove organisational silos separating professional and technical staff.
- Embrace the game-changers - they collaborate with or adapt ideas from the NewLaw model of business, a leaner and more agile version of legal services.
- Walk a mile in their clients’ shoes - they invest in client-centric approaches and remember why they’re in business: to help their clients. They use social media to cultivate new business relationships, collaborate with clients and speak their language.
- Adopt technological advances - they’re not afraid of the pace of technology. They adopt it to increase their legal know-how, efficiency and quality of services.
The Final Word
It seems like democratising ideas and knowledge lays the groundwork for innovation in law.
Certainly, law firms are starting to click that the entire crew must be thinking of ways to improve culture and better serve clients - not just the partners.
And in doing so, they’ve created a new issue. How do they work through all the ideas thrown at them? And how do they implement them? Perhaps a digital platform can get law firms sharing their bright ideas and collaborating on their development.
We rest our case.
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