It used to be that law firms simply looked at each other and made sure that they were neither too far ahead nor too far behind their pack of similar firms. In that world, anyone bringing an idea to firm leadership was immediately asked, “Who else is doing it?” Novel ideas were immediately suspect. Innovation was, in short, a dirty word. And, since law departments tend to be made up of law firm refugees and have far fewer resources, they too had little inclination and capacity to consider markedly new approaches (however desperate or overwhelmed they might feel).
However, law firms and in-house legal departments (now that many are keeping the work they once sent to outside counsel) are facing pressure to be faster, better, and cheaper. Sometimes that pressure can be intense – when, for instance, a firm’s revenues drop or a corporation applies restraints; sometimes the pressure is constant – more like boiling a frog. Either way, many managing partners and GCs are now looking for practical innovation that they can implement immediately.
Those leaders should also be looking for novelty, although that word may feel unsettling to them. Competition between firms is increasingly intensifying and competition between companies is already fierce. So, if everyone else is doing something, not much is to be gained by also doing it (unless that thing has become table stakes – in which case, doing that thing becomes necessary to stay in the game, but provides no basis for winning). In a series of posts about legal innovations that are both practical and novel (see my initial list), I will cover a wide range of approaches from practice efficiency to enhanced business development that may or may not require technology.
But what is novel? And what is practical? What test should be applied before bringing an idea forward? I suggest that ideally an idea should:
- apply equally well to law firms and law departments,
- not yet widely used (10% or fewer) by law firms or law departments – though possibly (or frequently) used outside of legal,
- be currently available,
- have some track record of positive business results (something leading, but not bleeding edge), evidenced by
- improved efficiency,
- reduced risk,
- increased (internal or external) client satisfaction, or
- attracting new work (or, for law departments, expanding the department’s mandate),
- be easy for most lawyers to adopt most of the time (the tool or technique must build on or extend what most lawyers already do, rather than require them to do something entirely different),
- can be started at relatively low cost (say, with a handful of lawyers in the pilot), and
- be cost-effective when fully launched.
Let me know what you think of this proposed test for ideas and my initial list of novel and practical innovations – click here to review and rate the items on the list using the test. Also, let me know of any other ideas that should be tested and explored in this series. Together we can find identify the top ten innovations for law firms and law departments – and remove innovation from the naughty-words list.