Got Any Bright Ideas?

Innovation will be a hallmark and creativity will be absolutely mandatory for lawyers and law firms hoping to succeed in the next decade and beyond, participants at a Futures Initiative-sponsored professional development session on innovation were told at the 2013 CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon.

Innovation, creativity and perhaps the kind of regulatory change that made the U.K.’s Riverview Law possible.

Andy Daws, Riverview’s vice-president North America, says the 2007 Legal Services Act, which was designed to promote competition, innovation and the public and consumer interest, has made the U.K. “the world’s legal laboratory right now,” where experiments in ownership structure, service delivery, and alternative business models are being carried out, with varying degrees of success.

“We’re on a journey here, (and we’re) not saying it’s all right by any means” but it has been a catalyst for innovation, says Daws.

Lawyers don’t need to reinvent the wheel, says Joe Milstone, co-founder of Cognition LLP. Creativity can mean focusing on what clients want – and what Cognition’s founders discovered is that quality of work and reduction of costs is “paramount” for clients.

“Capitalize on historical client irritants,” Milstone says – no more nickel-and-diming, charging for phone calls and travel time; bring lawyers to the client to learn more about the culture and expectations.

He also offered up some basic math: virtual + boutique does not equal lean and innovative; and lean + innovative is not necessarily equal to LPO and commodity work. You want clients who are paying with real money, and there’s no reason why non-traditional firms can’t have them.

He also suggests that non-lawyer ownership of firms would help foster an innovative atmosphere in Canada’s legal community.

Michelle Crosby, founder of U.S.-based Wevorce, noted that there’s no need to be a tech expert to have a tech-based law firm. The company relies on software to calculate costs and processes so that every client knows from the beginning what to expect.

But Crosby isn’t a tech expert – she hired people who were. Crosby, a child of divorced parents, had an idea about how things could be done, and found the people who could make it happen.

She acknowledges that not every idea will work all the time.

“Innovation requires a new script which opens you to failure,” she says. For innovators, she amends the law-school mnemonic IRAC – Issue, Reason, Analysis, Conclusion – to Issue, Resolution, Action, Courage. It takes courage to see how things can be done in a new way.

Crosby doesn’t accept the oft-repeated idea that lawyers don’t like change – being change-averse is part of the skill set for the profession, said moderator Gary Luftspring, who is also on the Steering Committee of the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative.

Instead, Crosby responds, “We are all capable of innovation – we do it every day. Lawyers are inherently innovators because they’re always looking for ways to help clients.”

Rebecca Cowdery has run into resistance to change as program director of the BLG Adroit: Lean Project Management Initiative. Using Lean Six Sigma principles, the initiative was launched in October 2011 as a way to generate revenue, improve profitability, enhance the firm’s market profile, and bring improved efficiency and cost predictability.

Nearly two years later, Cowdery says the firm is working with “explaining (BLG Adroit) in a way that resonates with lawyers.”

The question she asks is, “how do we make lawyers want to do this?”

Domenic Crolla of Gowlings says – big law firms can be innovators as well, by fostering and supporting a culture of entrepreneurship and agility in adapting to change; by investing in associates who are adept at change; and empowering that innovation by investing in IT.

The bottom line, he says, is “if you can’t do something cost-effectively you shouldn’t do it.”

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