Few law firms invest in research and development. But doing so could pay big dividends. 

Lawyers spend time on billable work, client development, firm administration, and keeping up on legal developments. Is R&D even on the list?

The focus of R&D should be driven by strategy (see Adam Smith, Esq.’s recent Do You Have a Chief Strategy Officer? Post on strategy). Here are a few ideas for potential R&D topics:

  • E-discovery – particularly figuring out what approach to reviewing large quantities of documents works best. Some law firms now focus on e-discovery though it’s not clear that they are investing in R&D. ( For firms focusing on e-discovery, see my blog post New E-Discovery Law Firm or the recent law.com article Form an E-Discovery Group in Five Steps.)
  • Project management – applying the technique to large litigation or transactions could work wonders. Some firms now have project management offices residing in IT with aspirations to extend to the practice, but the transition is difficult and slow.
  • Conract management – companies large and small struggle with managing their contracts. I’ve argued before that law firms could profit from helping companies manage contracts.
  • Pursuing commoditized work – apply document assembly or other automation to compete for and profitably handle high volume, moderately complex matters.

Of course, R&D does not always result in successful innovation. So law firms that start down this road should proceed with the “fail fast” mindset. The first attempt may not work, but that does not mean giving up. Just try again.