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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Panning for gold: no spark of genius required

Panning for gold: no spark of genius required


Alan Larkin values the 'eureka' moment but says a spark of genius is not necessary for innovation

Advising a roomful of senior lawyers from disparate firms that they needed a god in their heads to succeed with innovation is unorthodox, but it grabs attention. Besides, I think it’s true.

Metaphorically, of course.

My workshop opener was enthousiasmos – the Greek root of our modern day ‘enthusiasm’ – being possessed of a divinely endowed energy and drive; a compulsion to achieve an outcome; often accompanied (according to the ancient Greeks) by speaking in tongues.

But more of that later.

I like to think of enthousiasmos as the rocket fuel that propels an innovation to realisation. And the fuel tank will need to be exceptionally large to power a radical innovation through the many obstacles that will be placed in its way.

Those obstacles – financial, structural and cultural – are too numerous to list here but they are solid and obdurate.

Even if we have an endless supply of enthusiasm, how do we create the catalysing moment when the germ of an innovation is born?

We are familiar with the notion of a ‘eureka’ moment when a solution to a pain point presents itself.

I experienced my own epiphany, which propelled me along the tech innovation road, nearly a decade ago. And I can report that the enthousiasmos is unexhausted.

I value the ‘eureka’ moment. I enjoy hearing of the revelatory visions of others: the fuses, once lit, burn brightly defying the buffeting winds and drenching cold water of the naysayers.

But despite my experience I would argue that the eureka moment is not a privileged position, absent which innovation cannot emerge.

I contend that the spark of innovation can be struck off the base material that lands daily in our inboxes.

I confess to hoarding one such base material – research reports. These are mainly about legal services and client perceptions.

You know the sort of thing: it lands in your inbox and you’ll have a read of it later (right after finishing that urgent client work or gnashing your teeth over the latest debtor days figures).

These emails, bearing clickbait headlines such as: “Clients want Robo-Lawyers”, provoke our ire and are likely destined for instant deletion.

But when was the last time you studied the source research behind such headlines?

I locate and download the source and go through it line by line. I pan for gold.

There are small mountains of sand and grit but, with patience and careful winnowing, a flash of something precious may appear.

A spark of market intelligence

I remember a Ministry of Justice study with an extensive cohort of real people with real problems seeking legal information or advice.

The web-based legal information they encountered was woefully inadequate, hopelessly generic and – in the case of solicitors’ websites – little more than marketing puff.

So it’s no surprise that the public turn to the reassurance of a face-to-face consultation. 

Sadly, for many of the cohort who had family legal issues, free interviews left them no clearer about the specificity of the law or the next steps they should take – even when they ran over the allotted time.

The expressed needs and expectations of many were left unfulfilled by the process used by most solicitors. What a monumental wake-up call to address this unmet need. How precious is that insight?

This market intelligence alone, provided to us free of charge, should spark any number of innovative ideas to remedy the gross deficiencies in our onboarding model.

A sobering research nugget is that most people associate family law solicitors with court and those same people (unsurprisingly) don’t want to go to court. Reflect on that.

The collective efforts of family lawyers to tool up on dispute resolution alternatives to the court process have barely registered with the public.

How can we be so poor at promoting awareness of our expensively acquired skillsets? From a lawyer-brand perspective, this is a disaster.

Most of the research I’ve digested has led to experimentation and innovation within my team. Those ideas suggest themselves – no spark of genius required.

And the speaking in tongues? Try exploring knowledge domains outside of the legal services sphere: the languages of behavioural economics, of neuroscience or gamification.

There is a big world out there and so very much to be enthused about.

Alan Larkin is director of innovation and technology and a family law specialist at Family Law Partners