If at First You Don’t Succeed…

“I know lawyers who are very innovative and lawyers with very traditional practices. The latter seem to make much more money,” says Noel Semple, a self-described “lapsed lawyer and aspiring professor.”

And there, in a nutshell, appear two of the biggest impediments to innovation in the legal field: the idea that if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t need fixing, combined with the real possibility that the innovation will fail – or at the very least, that the innovator will be scrambling for money until the idea catches on.

Innovations in the legal sector – and the impediments thereto – were the subject of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative’s first November Twitterchat hosted by Monica Goyal, the founder of My Legal Briefcase and a member of the initiative’s business structures and innovation team.

When Saskatchewan lawyer Alex Shalashniy described himself early on as a failed entrepreneur, Goyal suggested that not wanting to fail is an impediment to innovation in the profession.

“Lawyers shouldn’t fear innovation, it’s a concept right in the heart of jurisprudence development – take existing tools and apply them to new situations,” Shalashniy replied. “That should inform a proper risk appetite for change.”

Kate Simpson, a consultant with Tangledom, joked that maybe if we could find another word for “failure” lawyers might be more willing to give it a try.

Instead of willingness to fail, talking about “acceptance that you might not at first succeed may be a better angle for lawyers.”

“A legal innovation incubator, a MaRS-like entity that helps entrepreneurs/innovators get their ideas off the ground” might be just the thing, Simpson suggested.

“Resilience is needed, but an innovation incubator can help minimize the ‘feeling’ of failure,” she said.

Goyal liked the idea of an incubator, but noted, “requirement is you be a ‘company’ to participate. Maybe law firm structure impedes innovation.”

Author and legal futures commentator Mitch Kowalski said what’s needed is an “ecosystem that allows for any capital infusion and any structure,” because “new structures will spur innovative juxtapositions.”

That is one of the areas that the business structures team as well as the ethics and regulatory issues team are studying – what new structures might be necessary, and how the regulatory environment might have to change to accompany them.

Goyal suggested that before we can talk about innovation in the profession, we should define what we mean by the word: is it adoption of new technologies, new ways of marketing, or business structures?

Semple offered up the pessimistic suggestion that the number of lawyers per capita in Canada is low enough that competition “is insufficient to force innovation.”

Shalashniy doesn’t think they’ll have a choice.

“Innovation will inevitably be thrust upon the legal profession by the mass proliferation of technology outside law, just wait,” said Shalashniy. “Doubt that lawyers will replace startups as the real innovators, though innovation/competition will be seen intra-profession.”

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