The conservative nature of law firms can make it difficult for them to them innovate, find solutions to new problems or discover more efficient ways to manage on-going business activities. But even the most traditional firms can overcome these challenges. That was the theme of a recent Harvard Business Review webinar called “Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” presented by Jeffrey Dyer, the co-author of ‘The Innovators’ DNA’.
When it comes to change, the legal industry tends to move slowly and in packs. New ideas are scrutinized by people whose jobs exist to identify problems and risks, not potential and opportunity. And most firms look to others within the industry as sources for new solutions. “If that firm tried and it worked, I guess it will be OK for us.” is the prevailing approach. This ‘wait and see’ tactic might work if every firm faced the same challenges or had the same opportunities. But the result would be the continued commoditization of the sector with little to differentiate the firms.
New ideas can come from many places. This is great news for law firms as they tend to have a variety of clients and contacts with a diverse range of businesses, and they often include today’s business leaders. Tapping into this close and accessible network to learn how different businesses are run, how challenges and opportunities are approached, and how the day-to-day operations are managed could provide the inspiration and unique solution needed that the rest of the legal profession has yet to grasp. The ideas can range from ways to better deliver core legal services to solutions that can help the firm run better as a business. Learning about your clients will of course have the added benefit of enhancing the business relationship and allow lawyers to better serve the future needs of the client thanks to a greater understanding of their business needs.
New solutions should also be sought from people with a different perspective. The senior management of a law firm charged with trying to build the business or resolve on-going issues may not have terribly different perspectives. Seeking ideas from people who don’t think like senior management can present some unexpected options. Think about the mix of gender, age, nationality and sector experience when looking for people to ask for help. Studies have found that people who have lived in two or more countries and/or worked in two or more sectors tend to be better innovators as they are better observers and can connect ideas and solutions from one sector or place to another. That’s worth keeping in mind when it comes to recruiting lawyers and other staff into the firm.
Having a firm culture in place that encourages and supports new ideas is an important part of the equation, especially if the leaders of the organization are not innovators themselves. Are junior associates, legal assistants and other members of the firm enabled and encouraged to challenge how things are run and present ideas and new approaches that could help the business?
The typical left-brain lawyer may see the search for creative solutions as a futile exercise. But finding good solutions is not genetic. Studies have proven that. Observing how others have tackled similar issues and connecting with people will different perspectives will open new possibilities. Firms must also be wiling to test the new ideas and accept that not every solution will be perfect right from the start. Finding those new and better ways starts by questioning the status quo.