I report here on best practices for legal innovation, based on the results the August 20th the Innovative Thinking Workshop at the ILTA annual conference that I facilitated with Cheryl Disch and Joshua Fireman.

I start with my synthesis of and commentary on findings based on input from 60+ participants working in eight groups during our 90 minute workshop. Sections after my conclusions cover highlights of participants’ answers to some questions, information on how we collected answers, and the session description

My Conclusions

Organizing for Innovation: Answers from participants indicate that law firms have not converged on a single way of “doing innovation”. I would have been surprised – and dismayed – to see otherwise. First, legal innovation remains in the early stages. It’s too early to know what works best. And second, it’s not obvious a single best path to innovation exists, in law firms or anywhere else.

Innovation Success Factors: When I eyeball participants’ top answers to several questions, a few themes emerge. Here is my take-away of best practices for legal innovation success:

  • define and solve pain points,
  • involve senior internal champions,
  • get clients onboard,
  • make sure to have the right resources (budget and people),
  • create an open culture,
  • communicate to users and stakeholders regularly,
  • define success in advance, and
  • be willing to fail.

Not Mentioned as Much as I Expected or Hoped. Some, but not as many participants as I hoped, focused on “be clear on the problem to solve” and “involve clients”. In my experience, a key to success is to focus on what clients need and their pain points coupled with a focus on firm pain points . These were mentioned, but not by as many participants as I would have hoped.

Organizational Structure for Innovation

We first asked participants to answer binary questions about organizational structure for innovation. The charts below show answers. The x-axis scale in the first chart applies to all subsequent charts.

Lessons Learned about Innovation

Best Overall Tip for Innovation Success

  • Change is messy
  • Try to keep it simple and promote your success (ROI)
  • Develop a mindset of change!
  • Create a culture of innovation

Top Factors that HELP Innovation Success

  • Have a named project manager or coordinator
  • Involve a lawyer as a champion
  • Give cultural permission to fail
  • Line up client(s) to create pressure for innovation action
  • Get attorney buy-in
  • Gain support from key sponsor (partners) / champion
  • Create a culture of “open to change” or continuous improvement

Top Factors that HURT Innovation Success

  • Scope creep
  • Lack of communication
  • Resistance to change
  • Scope creep
  • Lack of ownership

Innovation Project Selection

Best Overall Tips for Project Selection

  • Have a process for ideas and selection/prioritization
  • Weigh against firm strategy
  • Start from lawyer pain points / inquiries
  • Good use case examples: helps sell business case
  • Freedom to generate how ideas develop … support system
  • Little changes can make a big difference – not just the shiny objects

Favorite Process to GENERATE Ideas

  • Journey mapping
  • Start from lawyer questions/pain points
  • Consultant help to identify pain points
  • Client-facing gets higher priority
  • Client demands
  • Client need or demand
  • Retreat / committee dedicated time

Favorite Approach to Evaluate and Select Projects

  • Supports the firm’s strategic plan
  • Make a business case to C-suite
  • Define need and value (ROI)
  • See an impact on clients, productivity, marketing/BD
  • Be scalable / make impact / depth

Innovation Project Execution

Best Overall Tips for Project Execution

  • Sustain focus and momentum
  • Find a champion and keep them involved
  • Regular communication
  • Plan for change management
  • Have the right skills and people working on projects

Examples of Successful Adoption Strategies

  • Champions
  • Gamification
  • Communication, communication, communication

How We Collected the Data – The Basis for Best Practices for Legal Innovation Success

We had 60+ attendees, mainly from law firms, who broke into 8 tables (groups) to work through four topics about legal innovation. Each table worked through four topics: the first was about how organizations structure for innovation; the next three about the mechanics of innovating. Topics had up to four questions each. Our forms provided multiple lines to fill in answers. On consolidating answers across tables, several questions have 50+ answers. Of course, some answers are similar.

For each topic, we also asked the table to select their best overall tip and, for each question, their favorite answers. In theory, that should mean that we have eight answers for each question but not every table checked an answer. I present those best tips / top choices here. Note that I have exercised some editorial judgment about questions I include and phrasing of answers. For the full set of answers, click here to download complete answers as a PDF or see the ILTA Innovative Thinking Workshop session landing page, which also has our slides, audio of the session, and the questions forms.

Keep in mind that this is not a representative survey. Rather, attendees likely self-selected based on their involvement or interest in innovation.

End Note: Session Description

“Enough! No more academic navel gazing about innovation! Part 2 of our Innovation Series is an interactive workshop focused on “practical innovation” – HOW organizations develop and vet ideas, and then move from idea to execution. Rather than focus on a formal or formulaic process, participants will share, challenge, and build on different approaches to innovation. This is a rare opportunity to compare notes with your peers to see what might work at your own firm. You’ll work in small groups through a series of questions, scenarios, and outcomes. Together, we will see what common themes emerge in practical innovation.”