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Law firms and Innovation: The Devil is in the Details

Why conformists are a key to successful innovation’ from the Harvard Business Review blog got me thinking about the challenge many law firms have when it comes to evolving their practice management or marketing efforts in a meaningful way. I’m not referring to mass changes to the firm’s delivery model. Any kind of change that breaks the mold of how the firm has been carrying out its business for a long period of time can be a challenge to approve and implement. But developing an idea that no other firms have attempted is even more rare, and arguably that much more difficult to both conceive and implement.

When delving into effective innovation practices, the researchers found that too many groups were comprised of ‘creative people’ who were great with coming up with ideas, but those ideas too often failed to progress. The reason for failure was down to the composition of the group. Most did not comprise the right mix of people capable of assessing the ideas and taking them forward to implementation. The research found that the ideal ‘innovative’ group needed to have a mix of:

  • Creative people

  • Conformists

  • Attention to details people

The research emphasized the importance of not having too many ‘attention to detail’ people because they “tend to be risk-averse and uncomfortable with ambiguity. They can squelch nascent ideas.” The post goes on to sat that “you don’t want the detail people forming a bloc.”

Attention to detail is pretty much a core job requirement in the legal profession and many lawyers would add that analyzing and minimizing risk is an important part of the role. So in a company full of lawyers how do you create teams capable of delivering new initiatives or exploring new opportunities? There short answer is there is no easy solution for most firms. And the list of potential barriers that can prevent a firm from innovating goes well beyond the composition of the group charged with the task. But careful consideration of the skills and roles of all the team members is something all firms should take on-board if they are serious about delivering change instead of coming up with reasons why something won’t work.

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