Innovation pays, but are law firms ready to lead instead of following?

In his article “Innovation pays” Jordan Furlong commence that “I’m willing to wager that the one phrase most frequently spoken in partnership meetings, when the subject of potential new initiatives comes up, is: “Are any other firms doing this?” Law is virtually the only industry where a negative answer to that question is met with disappointment. Doing what everyone else is doing will get you everyone else’s results. This is patently obvious, and lawyers are more than smart enough to recognize it. So the continued insistence by many lawyers that new and better results must be obtained by employing the same old approaches will have to remain one of life’s great mysteries. ”

The recent contest InnovAction Awards has however proven that “there are lawyers and legal service providers who are making the effort, successfully, to redefine the terms upon which lawyers create legal services and by which clients access them.” In his article Jordan Furlong has listed entries from law firms and legal organizations worldwide that merit attention. Please see the list here.

Mary Abraham has also reported from the recent ILTA conference on some exciting Knowledge Management Initiatives Supporting Innovative Legal Services, such as Squire Sanders & Dempsey’s reformed structure to move from repeated action to innovation where they have established a project management steering committee, a process improvement steering committee and a knowledge management steering committee, since “Blind adherence to the past makes is difficult to adapt to changes in the environment.” In this session it was also established that “KM makes money, by the fact shared by Littler Mendelson’s that about one-third of the firm’s revenue comes from its subscription service called Littler GPS that provides clients with premium content relating to employment and labor law across the country.”

However, in his article Law Department Innovation – An Oxymoron? Ron Friedman analyses the “IC 10” annual winners of the Inside Counsel magazine’s top 10 innovative law departments with “By my read, not much serious innovation is taking place. Only two of 10 winners caught my eye as interesting. First, one company uses online bidding to buy legal services. […] Second, NetApp, a storage and data management company, decided to “streamline efficiency by incorporating Web 2.0 technology within the legal department.” […] “Let’s say I am right that 7 or 10 winners are doing ordinary work. Perhaps law departments are just not going public with their innovations. I fear, however, it just means little game-changing innovation takes place in law departments.”

The leading “guru” on legal innovation, Richard Susskind, has in an interview by Rob Ameerun about a year ago come to believe that “senior lawyers accept that the legal profession is changing, and now they want more practical help rather than theoretical discussion about the future. So in a sense my period as an evangelist for change is coming to an end.” Susskind says it would be wrong to suggest that the entire profession has embraced change, but “enough of the kinds of individuals who come to me from imaginative firms are now asking a different set of questions. Originally it was: why should we change, what are the pressures in the market place, what are you seeing in other professions, what’s the role of technology, and so forth. Now people are saying: we really need to over the next five years perhaps to transform our practice, give us some help, give us some guidance, give us some tools to help effect that organisational change.

So, it seems like the legal profession is beginning to see the changed future of the legal marketplace, but that the phrase “Are any other firms doing this?” is still in the lead over new approaches.