“Innovation” is a buzzword that’s getting spread a lot these days, up there with “disruption”. It sounds like something foreign to the legal industry, but it shouldn’t be. Believe it or not, we too can be innovative.

We’re all excited because the pandemic has made us believe that we can now be innovative – businesses that were previously stranded have been forced to become completely estranged within days or weeks. Most legal systems are now paperless. We sign documents online and discuss hybrid work. What else is on the horizon?!?

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During our virtual conference last week, one of my attorneys told me that his fear is that as soon as things meet again, there will be pressure to get back to the way things were. Partners and management will all say * say * that we are embracing this new hybrid way of working and embracing innovation, but when young partners and associates see their bosses in the office five days a week for long hours, they will will feel under pressure. Do the same thing. After all, “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

The depressing part about this is that I can see this is happening too – but last year when we were forced to work from home in the midst of a pandemic when stress was also at an all time high, Law firms have seen some of their highs. successful years. The lawyers weren’t in the office and yet they were billing more than ever. Just a coincidence? I do not believe that. More like proof that it is high time to innovate.

I’ve already mentioned here Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, a book that focuses on how “today’s entrepreneurs are using continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses”. And while you can argue that law firms aren’t startups and lawyers aren’t entrepreneurs, what if you acted like them? What if the last year of the pandemic taught you that you are more like entrepreneurs than you realize?

A pandemic is a terrible thing – we can all agree. At the bare minimum, it creates low-level anxiety that is constantly with you and at worst it creates unimaginable loss. But as we have to find ways to support it, we might as well find the silver liners it has to offer. And there are lessons to be learned from the last 15-18 months that we’ve been forced to be more creative, more innovative – yes, it’s not ideal to try and work from home in a pandemic. But what if you could choose to work remotely from time to time? What if you could find other ways to strategically innovate within your business?

Ries’ book addresses three truths about innovation for sweeping success that at this point in the pandemic we should really take to heart as opportunities.

Ries is very focused on the idea of ​​taking a product or service, at the minimum necessary to test it in the market and send it there. It sounds TERRIFIC to an industry that is generally extremely conservative. But his reasoning for doing so is sound – before investing the time, capital, energy, etc. in developing a fully functional and fleshed out product that you are not sure the market will buy, why not send it out there and see what the market will actually do? Then measure the results, see what people say and ask, and keep refining and relaunching.

The thought of doing this can make some of you very irritating. I understand that, completely. I myself am a perfectionist. I want something beautiful and perfect to be packaged beautifully and ready for the market before I consider letting anyone know what I’m doing. But in a world of innovation, what if that isn’t the answer?

We don’t have to do this for everything. But in your pockets of innovation within the company, try to test this. Are you trying out a new technological solution with your customers? Don’t wait until it’s perfect to start working with some of them. Launch it (without all the fanfare and press releases) and get their feedback. Identify the features they need and need, which bugs need to be fixed, and work with your technology partners to adapt them. Test it again and keep refining it. It helps you know what your customers really want. Try it with other types of innovation as well – it doesn’t have to be just technology. Think outside the box when it comes to being innovative.

It can seem tempting to want to conduct tons of market research to ask your clients what they want, or to ask your lawyers what they want. But as Ries regularly points out, many customers don’t really know. Often, it’s their actions that tell us what works and what doesn’t, what they want or don’t want. We may * think * we know what’s best for them, but their actions will dictate what the market will bear.

So we have to familiarize ourselves with the idea of ​​being uncomfortable and start testing things before they are perfect and let our clients, our lawyers, our staff help us get them to that perfect stage. THIS IS what will make us truly innovative.

It might sound scary, but the truth is, you’ve done it before. You took your ENTIRE business and went virtual last year. In many cases, you have also helped your customers to do the same. You’ve figured out how to go digital, how to upgrade those members of your business who didn’t have the technology at home, and make them comfortable connecting remotely. You have maintained your corporate culture and you have integrated new associates or partners or staff. You’ve hosted happy hours and webinars and figured out how to make deals, in some cases with clients you’ve never met in person. Some of you have testified online, trained associates, run entire businesses.

You ALREADY know how to innovate while being uncomfortable because you already have. The question now is: what’s the next step? How can ELSE serve your customers in new and incredible ways, while maintaining the level of service you’ve always had? We don’t need to go back to the way things were – not that we didn’t want and need to go back to work in person, because it has value and usefulness – but we have the ability to find a NEW way of working that will generate value for everyone.

In a market where there is pressure to be “innovative”, we may feel that we have to make huge, radical changes to keep pace. And if we’re not ready to make those changes, we decide not to innovate at all – there’s no middle ground.

You don’t have to change EVERYTHING (and in fact, you shouldn’t). But you should change SOMETHING. It may seem like because of the pandemic you have already changed everything – but do you really have it? Yes, work has become distant. But is it really going to stay that way? No. And many lawyers were already working a few days away before the pandemic. We just have more confidence now that hard-working lawyers can work hard from anywhere (and people who find ways to slack off are always going to slack off – it’s an HR issue, not a job issue. remotely, has always been).

Yes, we have been through a time of EXTREME upheaval, so we may need a little time to adjust – to scratch, we will need time to adjust. But there will be those in your business who are really excited about all of these changes and the ability to innovate and move forward. It will be a bit rare in the legal field, you may have to research them. Empower them to follow this spirit. Allow them to conduct market testing in the above vein in small areas We have already talked about that). Prepare for some things to fail – this is where being comfortable with discomfort comes in handy. Failure is great because that’s how you learn. Of course, there are better types of failures than others because you want to plan and innovate strategically, so that when and if you fail, you learn and adapt based on that failure.

Ries talks about the difference between the “Just Do It” / Nike entrepreneurial philosophy and his more thoughtful “Lean Startup” philosophy. Adopting the latter allows for more strategic decisions, planning, adaptation and hubs, and this is where radical success can and will happen.

Innovation is difficult, scary, and can be overwhelming. I dare say that this is perhaps even more the case for the legal sector, as it is filled with naturally risk averse people, who want intended results and sure results.

But innovation is also necessary.

So, to get through these uncertain times, we have to have faith in a vision, in the end goal of what we are trying to achieve. The idea here is not to innovate for the sake of innovation. Innovation is needed, yes, but you don’t change your business because it looks cool. The objectives will be individual, but probably in the direction of efficiency, savings, creation of value for the customer, enhancement of a brand advantage, etc. Identify up front what your goal is for the project you are working on, and what you believe the outcome will be – flexibility is needed, as measurement and learning will often surprise you, but your overall assumption should stick. For example, if you think you can deliver your services in a more efficient and streamlined way, you might be surprised at exactly how you do it, but THAT you can accomplish this will hold true. When you keep this vision in mind, it will keep you strong during uncertain times, when you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing, asking the right questions, making the right moves.

We may not be natural innovators as an industry. But looking directly at some of the ideas and barriers that keep us from changing and leaning toward discomfort can lead to some really great things. And given that even in a terrible pandemic, when we were forced to change and innovate in a short period of time, the legal industry was able to experience such incredible success, it should give us the confidence to know that the innovation is not what is scary. boogeyman that many of us have feared before, but something that needs to be excited and continued as we go along.