If innovation's such a hot topic, where are all the innovators?
Friday, October 23, 2015 at 4:04PM
Karen Dunn Skinner in Change, Innovation, Jordan Furlong, Leadership, Legal Futures, Process Improvement, Vision

This week I was a speaker at the American Bar Association Section of International Law fall meeting in lovely Montreal (full disclosure: I live there).

The day began with a plenary session on the evolution and future of the legal profession. William Hubbard, past president of the ABA, and Fred Headon, past president of the CBA, spoke of the initiatives both associations have underway to examine the future of the profession (see the ABA's here and the CBA's here). Alison Hook of Hook International in the UK, talked about regulatory changes to the practice in the UK, and Judy Perry Martinez, chair of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, urged participants to accept innovation and get involved in the ABA’s efforts to design a profession for the 21st century.

Later that day, I was part of a panel on the topic, Disruptive vs Sustaining Innovation: Can Lawyers Cope with Unprecedented Change? My fellow speakers were Matthew Peters, the driver behind McCarthy Tetrault’s exciting innovations; Catherine Hammack, founder of Jurispect, a fascinating company that predicts regulatory changes; and Kingsley Martin, founder of an equally fascinating company called KMStandards that provides automated solutions for contract review, drafting and auditing.

Jordan Furlong, our chair, led us through some great discussions about the future of law firms, the role and power of technology, and the possibilities we see for legal education, law practice, client service, and more.

Innovation. Change. Innovation. Process improvement. Innovation. Efficiency. These words came out again and again all day. It’s exactly what we do at Gimbal. And yet, my phone is not ringing off the hook.

Why? Because innovation is hard. It requires admitting the problem, deciding to get out in front and lead rather than be led, being proactive rather than reactive. Most importantly, it requires changing your mindset. As lawyers, we excel at finding the problems, the weaknesses, the issues. That’s what makes us great lawyers. But it’s also what makes us lousy innovators.

Our gut instinct makes us approach suggestions with “No, we can’t do that because…” rather than “Yes, we could do that if…”

Here’s the example I shared with the audience:

Imagine you’re in a meeting and someone suggests automating your time entry by having items in your Outlook Calendar automatically entered into the system. People would start saying things like:

No, I couldn’t do that because my assistant puts all kinds of things into my Outlook calendar

No, I couldn’t do that because I don’t know how to use Outlook properly (OK, you might not hear that one out loud, but someone’s thinking it!)

No, we couldn’t do that because what if the system crashed

No, we couldn’t do that, it’ll cost too much

Or my favourite:

Oh no, we tried something like that last year and it just didn’t fly…

Everyone would leave the meeting thinking, “Phew! Glad we dodged that one. Imagine what might have happened!”

And now I want you to imagine. Imagine what might have happened if the first person had stood up and said,

Yes, that’s a great idea. We could make that work…

if we trained everyone better on Outlook
if we ensured we had the right back-up system

if we could demonstrate to the partnership how much time we’d recover, time that was no longer being lost on the backs of napkins or forgotten at the end of the week

if we…

The mood in that meeting would be completely different. People would leave excited. They’d be thinking about change and feeling empowered at being able to share their ideas for improvement. They’d be willing to try new ideas, even if those ideas didn’t work the first time.

That’s the mindset lawyers and legal professionals must adopt to innovate, to get out in front of the changes in our profession. We need to try, fail, and try again.

Because change is definitely coming. Coping isn’t optional. The consensus at both sessions on Wednesday was that it’s becoming a matter of change or die.

Matthew predicted law firms that don’t take on the role of legal aggregators, parcelling work out to the right providers, managing the risk, and bringing it all back together as a package, will not survive in the medium term.

Kingsley listed the many things we now consider to be legal work but that can already be done by computers. He demonstrated the research power of Hey Google, and predicted what is to come.

Catherine’s company is automating insight. She's predicting future directions the law might take. With her work, companies can make sounder decisions on risk without the input of lawyers.

We all anticipate that the law firm of the future probably won’t look much like a law firm at all. It will be a powerful, multi-disciplinary organization that can service many diverse client needs seamlessly, most likely run and organized by lawyers (but that last bit may the lawyer ego speaking).

What do you think? Leave us a comment below or contact us directly.

And stay tuned for the Slideshare version of my talk on the mindset we need for innovation, coming next week.

Article originally appeared on gimbalcanada (http://gimbalcanada.com/).
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