In preparation for two upcoming conference sessions on legal innovation, my co-panelists and I ran a survey on innovation. I present the results below, intermixed with my own commentary.

The impetus for the survey is the 14 July 2019 panel (11:30am_ in Washington, DC at the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) annual conference. The session is Hot Topic: Embracing Sustainable Innovation Initiatives to Build a Future-Focused Library.

The ALL panel moderator is Jean O’Grady (DLA Piper) and my co-panelists are Marlene Gebauer (Greenberg Traurig) and Darrin Fox (University of Oklahoma).

This survey also supports an ILTACon 2019 session, Innovation Thinking Workshop (Tuesday, 20 Aug 2019). For this panel, I work with Cheryl Disch (Duane Morris) and Joshua Fireman (Fireman & Company).

I described the survey in more detail in my June post, Innovation Survey – Please Respond (for ILTA + AALL Conferences).

The last section has some more information about the survey.

Survey Demographics

Respondents by Organization Type. We asked respondents to choose their organization type from a pick list. We had a total of 81 responses. Heres is how they broke out:

Respondents by Position Type. To understand who responded, I looked at title. Not surprisingly, however, titles vary widely. I therefore normalized them by tagging as many as I could into five categories. By design, the chart reflects a sparse matrix. That is, only librarians span all organization types; other titles are unique to the organization type. I was able to tag titles for 72 of 81 responses.

Have Formal Innovation Programs

Have a Formal Innovation Program? We asked each respondent “Does your organization have a formal or informal innovation initiative?”. Captured in the chart below are the 71 respondents who could say definitely yes or no. Nine respondents were not sure so I did not include in the chart. I was not sure what to expect these results to look like, so I can’t comment on them.

Formal Innovation Program by Conference Attended. I also thought it would be interesting to see if the incidence of formal innovation programs differ by planned conferences attendance. In my view, the chart below shows there is not much difference.

I was somewhat surprised by these results. Given that so much innovation is tech-focused, I had thought that among the ILTA attendees, we might see significantly more formal innovation programs. While the ILTA percentage is higher, with relatively low numbers of respondents in total and even fewer as sliced as here, I am not comfortable ascribing significance to the relatively small differences.

Formal Innovation Program by Organization Size. The chart below shows what looks like a linear relationship between organization size and existence of a formal innovation program.

I’m not willing to say statistically it’s actually linear, but finding a correlation between size and formal innovation program is not surprising. Several articles I’ve read and conversations I’ve had suggest that the larger the organization, the easier it is to establish a formal innovation program.

Challenges to Innovation

We asked respondents “What challenges do you face in implementing innovative technologies, workflows or strategies?” as a free form text field. I tagged answers as best I could do. I created tags as I marched through answers. Though I created eight at the outset of the tagging exercise, by the time I finished, only one-half had sufficient numbers to report. The chart below shows the reasons given:

I also looked at innovation challenges by slicing the answers into bins for those whose organizations have and don’t have a formal innovation program. Interestingly, totals roughly split 50-50 per tag. I thought I might see fewer tags in those organizations with formal innovation programs but the results are split closely enough that I can’t conclude that.

Sampling of Answers to Free Text Questions

We asked several questions in free-form text. I include here a sampling I found representative and/or interesting. To maintain anonymity, I provide only position type; listing actual titles might reveal too much given the number of unique titles, at least in law firms.

My comments are the top of each section in italics; the remainder of each one lists quotes.

Innovation Initiative Described

We asked “4. Does your organization have a formal or informal innovation initiative? 5. If YES, please describe the innovation initiative.”

The answers here strike me as quite varied in at least two ways. First, what counts as innovation remains in the eye of the beholder. And second, forms of organization vary.

“We have created both a formal innovation team and have had meetings and design sessions. We have also created a new committee to enhance the Client Experience which will also focus on innovation.” – Law Firm

“Awards and cash bonuses to staff who come up with interesting new ideas” – Librarian, Law Firm

“There is a firmwide innovation committee that approves innovation initiatives which are submitted by individual Innovation committees” – Law Firm

“We started with a specific Innovation Lab initiative but the goals and team members were too broad. It has morphed into specific programs within Practice Management, KM, a process improvement program and internal app developments.” Librarian, Law Firm

“Very informal, but always focused on continuous process improvement – eliminating waste and applying innovation (in any form – process, people, technology)” – Office of General Counsel

“Committee: Innovation in Legal Practice” – Law School Admin

“Our firm orchestrated a Shark Tank, where attorneys and staff presented ideas to improve client service. Three of the ideas were chosen, and logistical support has been provided to turn those ideas into a reality.” Law Firm

Challenges to Innovation

We asked “What is the biggest “innovation” you have been personally been involved in at your current job or prior legal market job?”

As noted above, I started with 8 tags but by the time I tagged all answers, most clustered responses clustered into one of four tags. As varied as definitions of and approaches to innovation remain, the challenges seem similar across organization types and innovation initiative definitions

“Adoption is always challenging, even where there is an obvious use case and where the tool clearly matches and addresses an existing pain point.” – Law Firm

“Lack of library department staff; little buy-in from management” – Librarian, Law Firm

“Financial. Buy-in from users. Tech does not work as described.” Librarian, Law School

“Firm Culture – although getting better, still many people who think we can just purchase innovation and that we should be, but they don’t want to be involved themselves.” – Law Firm

“Getting help from IT and “this is the way we’ve always done it”” – Librarian, Law School

“Change resistance. No time for attorneys to receive training. Very little attorney time available to assist with defining the workflows.” – Law Firm

“Lawyers being seduced by shiny objects” – Law Firm

“Change management… getting people comfortable with even trying something new and different” – Office of General Counsel

“Change fatigue; understanding reason for new tech; budget support; understanding what potential new tech integrates well with old tech” – Librarian, Law firm

“Creating successful workflows that cater to four generations of workers” – Law Firm

Biggest Personal Innovation Involved In (this job or prior)

We asked “7. What is the biggest “innovation” you have been personally been involved in at your current job or prior legal market job?”

What counts as innovation varies greatly. By chance, as I was drafting this blog post, I listened to a podcast: Innovate, Collaborate and Transform Law Firms, an interview of Professor Michele DeStefano (professor of law, University of Miami; guest faculty, Harvard Law School Executive Education; founder and executive director, LawWithoutWalls) by LMA President Cynthia Voth. As Prof. DeStefano notes, some commentators talk about disruption but most lawyers focus on small and incremental changes: by the inch, not the mile. I think that’s the reality of innovation and a great frame of reference when thinking about innovation.

“We are also building an open source web on Drupal that will automate a function of our bankruptcy practice that will allow it to scale and potentially create an entire new business.” – Law Firm

“Updating and delivery of instructional programs for prisoners, pro se litigants, paralegals, law students and small law firm/solo attorneys” – Librarian at Public Law Libary

“Re-engineered a program for a financial institution client to stream a significant amount of repeatable work, including re-defining roles, document automation etc” – Law Firm

“Two different implementations of the same concept – breaking down the legal workflow into component parts and having the “right” resource and the “right” cost perform those tasks regardless of geography. All digital workflows.” – Office of General Counsel

“Using machine learning to crawl the DMS and identify motions authored by the firms attorneys and submitted to courts. Research team involved in validating the coding of documents to train algorithm to identify the court, the judge. the docket number and motion type.” Librarian, Law Firm

“Leading a committee to make a case for hiring a full-time professor to work in the innovation space. I know, this isn’t that much of an “innovation” – but it required both education of several faculty as well as persuasion to those who will ultimately support these goals.” – Law School Admin

“A large, multi-year contract review portfolio project, where we extend our intake process into the client’s space, driving efficiencies in on boarding work and producing matter-level data previously unavailable to the client.” – Law Firm

Not a BIG change, but I was instrumental in bringing in PacerPro, which we are just starting to roll out. We mapped current the process among lawyers and staff are helping different groups think though a new workflow, and determine who will be responsible for maintaining PacerPro.” – Librarian, Law Firm

“Consolidation of physical library sites. Closed 9 satellite libraries.” – Librarian, Office of General Counsel

Unconstrained Innovation Wish

We asked “Ignoring any organizational constraints, what is the one innovation project you would pursue if you could?”

It’s hard to characterize the range here. Some seem eminently doable with manageable changes. Others, however, are huge lifts: for example, doing away with email or changing partner compensation. And what can I say, but I was disappointed no one else shares my big wish: Do Less Law (#DoLessLaw), meaning prevention, scoping, and efficiency.

“Changing how lawyers are compensated to promote activities that benefit the firm at large and not just individual client lists.” – Law Firm

“Better databases for my organizations’ institutional knowledge data” – Law Librarian, Government Agency or Court

“I would like to purchase and customize a suite of legal tools for law students (ie, Wordrake, Adobe Pro, Grammarly, etc.) that can be rolled out during orientation and incorporated into the legal curriculum.” Librarian, Law School

“Eliminating email.” – Law Firm

“Creation of a tool that would harvest historical data to predict the monetary value and/or outcome of a workers compensation case.” – Law Firm

“Delivering news and court alerts for BD.” Librarian, Law Firm

“Creation of self-service contracts.” Office of General Counsel

“RPA – Finding ways to automate repetitive processes and make the workflow “flow” “. – Law Firm

“Using AI to read and analyse and code time entries. Then link those entries to write downs and write-offs. That is the holy grail in terms of providing clear direction on the next innovation initiative – what needs to be automated or outsourced because clients don’t value it.” Librarian, Law Firm

“Implementing project management across all practice areas and administrative departments.” – Law Firm

About the Survey

This survey ran from early June through 1 July 2019. Jean O’Grady and I promoted it in our separate blog posts and on Twitter. Others helped promote it on Twitter. We had a decent response rate: 81 people across law firms, law departments, and law schools. As with most legal market surveys, the respondents are self-selecting and therefore not necessarily representative of the market. (And in how many other survey reports do you see this caveat?)

I am not aware of that many other surveys that focus just on innovation. One other that I recall and like is by David J. Parnell, which he published at, 23 January 2019, The State of Law Firm Innovation 2018.