The profession must reclaim innovation by getting law firm culture right and making innovation the norm, say Fiona Fitzgerald and Georgina Watts
The year 2019 will be seen as the year in which ‘innovation’ jumped the shark. The legal sector’s favourite buzzword is no more, replaced with calls to #bringbackboring and focus on process rather than glorify technology. But a great deal of positive change has resulted from conversations about innovation, especially in relation to inclusion and access to justice and improving client service and career satisfaction. So let’s reclaim innovation and continue those conversations. Innovation is about making changes that positively affect our clients and business by improving our services and providing them more efficiently. Some innovation is about legal tech, though much is not. None can be achieved without people and passion. Successful innovation doesn’t necessarily require an investment in technology so much as an investment in your organisation’s culture. Many legal services organisations have a long history and a strong sense of identity. Sometimes, this goes handin-hand with set ideas of how and why we do things. But when we get our culture right, our identity can help us drive innovation rather than act as a barrier.
A team that cares about the business and believes in innovation can make change happen. Getting culture right makes innovation the everyday norm. Innovation isn’t about overhauling the way we do things, it’s about making small changes, for marginal gains that add up to a significant impact. We’re all able to implement new ideas that deliver better service by improving the daily processes we carry out. Everyone should be empowered to innovate and rewarded for doing so, regardless of role or seniority.
At a recent conference for global law firm leaders, debate focused largely on how firms could continue to grow in an increasingly challenging market. The discussion reminded us that the greatest progress we’ve made as a business is when we have asked our clients: “What can we do better and what will make your job easier?” The benefit for some may be tightening up a billing process; for others, it’s finding new ways of working together more collaboratively. The key is to listen and then act. Innovation is good for business. It keeps us on a forward trajectory and it’s an important differentiator, whether it’s exploring alternative funding options such as CrowdJustice; working as part of a client team using new technology; or simply being more efficient and proactive in our jobs.
Innovation doesn’t detract from our core purpose of providing expert advice while acting as an extension of our clients’ own teams – it enhances it. You can create a culture of innovation with our five top tips: — Build momentum – Start by focusing on low hanging fruit. Those first few easy wins can establish the trust you need before tackling difficult challenges. — Bring clients and colleagues together – The best innovation comes through collaboration and considering diverse perspectives. Get people working together within your organisation across teams, regardless of seniority. Just as importantly, talk to clients. This is about working better with them to achieve the best possible outcomes. — Reward curiosity – Encourage people to be outward looking, to learn as much as possible about what your clients and other leading organisations are doing and bring that knowledge back to your business. Invest in sending people to conferences and update your professional development programme to impact the wider business. — Learn from mistakes – If new initiatives don’t work, see it as a learning experience otherwise people will fear new initiatives. This requires leadership from the top. If you’re a manager, be open and honest when talking about mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned. — Persevere with marginal gains – Easy wins are fantastic but when you’re a high performing organisation it isn’t always going to be easy.
You need to be tenacious when pursuing marginal gains. When colleagues see this, they’ll believe it’s possible.