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‘Is legal innovation 95% culture change? What about technology?’


In my previous post I touched on one of the most common challenges it appears law firms are facing when adopting innovation strategies – internal resistance. Undeniably internal resistance can prove one of the strongest barriers between a firm and the implementation of an effective innovation programme. Whilst definitions and approaches to legal innovation may vary, processes surrounding the ‘internal’ implementation of innovation are where conversations about culture change really come to the fore. The integration of any business strategy will of course affect those within the organisation in question and, as discussed previously, the conservative stereotype attributed to the legal sector tends to stand at odds with the progressive qualities of innovation. If we are to take the traditional conceptualisation of the legal sector at face value, placing emphasis on culture change must follow. The adaptation of a traditionally resistant environment is the first step to embracing more transformational change.

However, to change the culture of a law firm at first glance appears to be an almost unmanageably broad task. Multiple questions arise – which department, team or individuals should be targeted first? How should resources be allocated and justified? When approaching said ‘culture change’ focus does appear to immediately turn to senior leadership, which begs the question – why is this the case? Of course, consistency and collaboration within senior leadership is essential; if management are seen to be championing innovation, then teams and departments will gain not only exposure but also confidence in the concept. However, it would be a mistake for firms to focus all of their attention on those in perceived positions of ‘power.’ Law firms need to be mindful of where they are targeting their innovation ‘education,’ as the alienation of the rest of the firm provides perhaps a bigger stumbling block than senior resistance.  Employees need to feel incentivised and excited about innovation; this can only occur if people feel part of the conversation and are aware of what is going on. Whilst the relationship between culture change and innovation again holds relevance, what can perhaps be suggested is that current approaches to culture change are skewed in favour of those at senior leadership level.

The question in the title of this post suggests that whilst, for some, innovation and legal technology have come to be viewed as almost synonymous, an innovation strategy must extend so much further beyond this. For technology to be implemented effectively and truly become an integral part of a business model, it must be understood and championed by those who will be both using and affected by it. There is a reason why firms are choosing to create teams specifically for the design and deliver of innovation strategy, rather than it simply being incorporated into an IT department. Innovation, and the technological developments that accompany it, is supposed to be relevant and used by all, designed to make the life of the employee easier and more productive. Document automation, drafting systems, case management systems, contract analysis – these tools all exist to free up time and help the prioritisation process. In order to do so, this technology needs to be used by those it is aimed at assisting which extends far beyond Partners or Associates; Paralegals and Support Staff should be as much involved in the conversation about legal technology.

The technology reference here merely scratches the surface of what is now at the fingertips of many firms; however there are obviously necessary steps that must be taken before technology becomes the sole focus. For the risk adverse lawyer, education is necessary to understand the many benefits innovation can offer - for there are many - and perhaps more importantly, the necessity of innovation if firm’s want to compete with other industries. For those within the legal profession with an appetite for technology, they must be included in the conversation, as they also hold not only the most relevant but also the most valuable voices. After all, who better to promote, endorse and instil confidence than a trusted peer? If we are to assume that culture change is the key to the seamless integration of innovation then creativity and interest must be rewarded and capitalised on.

For a firm to recognise that a change in culture is necessary for the integration of technology is a promising step forward, but the next hurdle takes the form of the target population and the identification of key players. Perhaps an area of further discussion is the relationship between internal and ‘external’ innovation – particularly the pressure client expectations can have on a firm and its adoption of legal innovation. If innovation is all about the modernisation of the legal sector, the culture of the ‘traditional’ law firm must modernise before the technology can, in keeping with client expectations. The approach to modernisation must be multifaceted, considered and targeted correctly – and it will vary greatly depending on the law firm in question.

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  • Katie Stearn
  • Consultant
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Prior to joining LAW Absolute Katie studied Politics at Durham University,…

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