Are innovation and law firms an oxymoron?

The legal market is becoming more competitive with law firms needing to differentiate themselves and yet innovation has only started to happen in pricing, it is not yet seen as a strategic priority in law firms in areas such as client service.  Are innovation and law firms an oxymoron?

Here are 18 reasons why innovation may not happen easily in the law:

1) No-one is responsible for it
2) No measures – ‘what gets measured gets done’
3) Not seen as a priority – the significance of differentiation in the new legal market is not fully understood
4) Narrowing down reductive thinking training of lawyers is the opposite of expansive thinking outwards that creates innovation
5) Belief that current legal market will revert back to what it was pre credit crunch
6) ‘Me too’ copying risk averse approach of firms; first = risky not better
7) Critical picking holes nature of lawyers’ intelligent minds kills embryonic ideas
8) Black and white natural thinking of lawyers when often innovation = subtle shades of grey
9) Client centricity still developing due to downturn – best innovations often solve a client problem
10) Hierarchical bureaucratic structure of the law firm model stifles innovation, especially from younger lawyers
11) Narrow linear deep specialism of lawyers is counter to lateral insights needed cross markets for innovation
12) Critical nature of lawyers reduces acknowledgement of ideas and the ‘greenhouse’ warming needed to nurture them and encourage proactivity
13) Short term thinking focus of law firms when innovation can be longer term
14) No structure in place to foster it
15) Innovation needs time and space to germinate – fee earning focus takes precedence
16) Traditional profession – innovation and newness is the opposite of tradition
17) Partner collaborative decision making slows down innovation when it needs to be increasingly nimble
18) Individualistic lawyer mind-set and attachment to being right – innovation is often a disparate collection of different ideas formed together

Combining all these factors creates many barriers to innovation happening in law firms.

What is your view? Are innovation and law firms an oxymoron? How can this be changed?

3 comments to Are innovation and law firms an oxymoron?

  • Practiced law for 20 years… now build software for lawyers. Compliments on your 18 points… you nailed it.

  • There are a number of psychological factors, which I think you are pointing to. If we think of two main modes of behaviour: “avoidance” and “approach.” Avoidance is adverserial and sets up fight of flight behaviours. We humans name the object we wish to avoid and this becomes a fixed thing for us and makes us more conscious of the self we need to protect. The more successful we are at using thinking intelligently, the more this tends to feed-back onto “avoidance.” This is the nature of the legal work. On the other hand, when we are curious, open minded, playful and friendly, we are letting our guard down and we are more at ease with those around us. It’s in these states we are more relaxed, less stressed and able to be more intuitive. Novel ideas just pop out of nowhere and we are not afraid of failing. The trouble is it’s a hard to promote “approach” mode behaviour and thinking in a culture that is dominantly running on “avoidance.” However, mindfulness training employs simple but powerful mind attentional training exercises which enable us to reduce the kind of thinking that makes us stressed and manage our emotional/mood states more effectively, giving us the ability to maintain curiosity and openess even in stressful environments.

  • The Stone Age did not end because they ran out of stones. The innovation process involves ambiguity, controversy and non-linearity and this poses a certain challenge to many interested in properly managing their innovation process. A good, thorough, comprehensive innovation process means finding the right delicate balance between a few successes and the many failures that are inevitable. This may not be the perception of innovation that people are familiar with, as the success stories tend to get all of the publicity, but true innovation means delving into the unknown, where innovations may, and indeed do, fail.

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