This is a live post from the Ark Group/Managing Partner’s 9th Annual Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  This session is Practice Innovation and the Profitability Equation: What is Invested in KM? The panelists:

  • Joseph J. Morford Managing Partner, Tucker Ellis LLP
  • Lisa Chamandy, Counsel, Client Service Innovation & Litigation, McCarthy Tétrault LLP
  • Gordon Vala-Webb, National Director, Innovation and Information, McMillan LLP
  • Moderated by: Joshua Fireman, Founder & President, Fireman & Company


Q: How can you do innovation in a culture that abhors failure?

Morford: We decide quickly, assign responsibility, do it.  If it goes well, we do more.  If not, we assess and try again or move on.  RF:  Failure is an option.

Chamandy:  Failure is an important part of any creative process.  Our firm is structured and has many committees.  Our culture allows for trial and error.  That permeates a lot of what we do.  We talk about “fail forward” – what were the lessons learned, how can we move forward with what we learned.
We try to create comfort in an uncertain environment.   So what that some stakeholders do not buy-in.  Proceed anyway, initiatives can still succeed.  Uses example of (legal project management) LPM, started in 2010.  Initially, it was highly structured.  But when we stepped back, changed our approach, uptake increased.
But being bold is not always the answer to innovate and change.  Sometimes being under-stated is the right path.  The key is to be aware of emotional state of

Vala-Webb:  “Vulnerability is the key to innovation”.  Being able to fail is the only way to innovate – but accountants and lawyers hate to fail.   To implement Jive at PWC, firm created a billable code.  No one billed time to it but having it helped created a culture that the initiative was important.

Morford:  Many lawyers are bored.  A firm that offers real change will attract them.  Ignore those that don’t want change and work with the ones who do.


Q: Do any of you  “celebrate failure”

Morford:  We celebrate effort.  We an lose trails but we celebrate the effort.  Part of my job is to protect staff from lawyers when staff take a chance and initiative does not work.  I will take some heat for them.  Distinguish handling partner v. all others.

Chamandy: We don’t celebrate but we discuss what we learned.


Q: How do you get the firm and lawyers to buy into an innovative idea?

Chamandy:  If not relevant to lawyers, don’t do it.  Whatever we do, we try to embed any initiative in the practice – it has to be relevant to lawyers and practices.  Need to be like the janitor at NASA who said “My job is to send people to the moon.”
Don’t sell to hard.  Lawyers don’t like it.  You have to find the right moment to pitch an idea – when a lawyer needs specific help.  If you hear yourself convincing or cajoling – stop!  Driving the right change should be easy.

Vala-Webb: The proponent of the idea matters.  I don’t want to be the guy bringing all the ideas to the firm.  Better approach is to find ways to plant new ideas within the firm.  The selling usually has to be indirect.  Don’t make the “innovation pitch” until you know it will succeed.

Morford: We do not require anyone in our firm to do anything.  We do a lot of data analysis and use that to drive decision making and to gently persuade.


Q: What happens when the assignment for the innovation leader is only the “germ of an idea”?

Vala-Webb:  This is my third time in a job where the remit is not that well defined at outset.  Most organizations don’t understand their strategy.  So first step is to reverse engineer to the underlying strategy and profit drivers.  Understand these and link back any initiatives to them.  You also have to find key players in the organization.  Help them succeed and build and coalition.