May 14, 2020

How Law Firms Can Overcome 'Innovation Fatigue’


Bylined article by Amol Bargaje, global director of IT Practice & Client Solutions.

Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as a marathon requires preparation on many fronts, the successful pursuit of innovation requires a holistic strategy.

Over the past decade, numerous competitive factors have compelled the world’s major law firms to seek ways of delivering legal services more efficiently and effectively. Firms have pursued these goals in myriad ways, ranging from creative pricing arrangements to co-creating bespoke solutions with clients. However, some of these efforts appear to be tactical responses, without an overarching strategy, posing a risk of innovation fatigue on both sides.

Starting With an Innovation Strategy

Few law firms have approached the innovation process holistically, with a formalized innovation strategy. A comprehensive approach to improving legal service delivery requires some essential ingredients to succeed—championship and support from top leadership; inclusion and alignment of legal and business professionals at all levels; and a culture of continuous improvement and calculated risk-taking.

When Mayer Brown, a global law firm, recently formalized its innovation journey, the firm’s leadership assembled a diverse team representing the firm’s legal process improvement, knowledge management and information technology functions, guided by a member of the firm’s leadership.

My colleagues and I on the newly formed Innovation Team began our journey by listening to all constituencies within the firm, considering both geographic and practice-level perspectives. We also conducted interviews and workshops with key clients to elicit constructive criticism, aspirations and ideas on strategic direction. From this “listening tour,” the team framed the firm’s innovation strategy and derived a foundational set of initiatives.

Doing the right thing is as important—if not more important—than doing the thing right. In developing our innovation strategy, we took this adage to heart by establishing a set of criteria against which all proposed innovation projects would be reviewed and prioritized. These criteria included strategic alignment, client benefit, anticipated return on investment, and likely engagement and impact across practices, departments and regions.

Innovation: Technology and Beyond

Many organizations confuse innovation with the adoption of shiny new applications and emerging technologies. While technology usually plays some part in innovation, conflating the use of technology with innovation is an easy mistake to make. This is not to say that one should shy away from using technology to address the problem, only that it is important to understand the business issue first and then seek to apply technology judiciously. Innovation commonly lies at the intersection of various disciplines, and by bringing together the knowledge management, process improvement and technology expertise on our team we have ensured that all three areas receive consideration. By following this approach, we have resisted the temptation to rush into solutions that rely on technology alone.

Most innovation initiatives encounter some processes that could benefit from digitalization or automation. In such cases, an important step is to determine whether an off-the-shelf product will satisfy the need, or whether a custom-built solution is required. Having a technology team that has stayed abreast of the ever-expanding landscape of emerging technologies and solution providers is invaluable in helping make that decision.

Our team has found a number of effective ways to stay current on technology trends. We constantly evaluate new offerings and emerging technologies; we are active in key industry forums and organizations (e.g., the International Legal Technology Association and the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) that provide opportunities for dialogue and sharing of best practices; we have forged relationships with innovative startups and agile technology product companies to shape their product development roadmaps; and we participate in hackathons or innovation sprints with clients and/or academic institutions.

Challenges With Implementing Emerging Technologies

Innovation teams frequently face pressures to leverage emerging technology fads.  New technologies may seem attractive because they promise a way to address business challenges in a refreshing new way. The problem is that emerging technologies (often developed by start-ups) may not be designed with the requirements of large organizations in mind, such as information security, ethical walls, multiple currency options or language support. There are other challenges as well, such as limited in-house knowledge, which can result in higher skepticism, slow adoption rates and difficulty in defining success metrics.

One way our team addresses these issues is by involving stakeholder representatives early in the evaluation of emerging technology options. Doing so has two important benefits. First, with the involvement of these stakeholders, we are often able to quickly identify (and rule out) products that will be unviable and bound to fail within our organization. Second, we are able to set realistic expectations and build a greater sense of ownership as the project progresses. This is crucial for change management and successful product adoption.

To increase in-house knowledge, it is tempting to hire people with specialized skills to operate and manage emerging technologies. Whenever possible, however, we strongly believe in developing internal talent. This has far-reaching advantages, including promoting mastery and cultivating long-term employee loyalty.

A big success criterion for any new solution is adoption. If you build an innovative solution but nobody uses it, the effort was wasted. Yet few organizations have someone whose focus is on technology adoption. At Mayer Brown, we created a role with sole responsibility for monitoring and increasing the adoption of our technology solutions.

Understanding and overcoming the barriers to adoption is both an art and a science. It is specific to each organization’s culture, but there are some time-tested techniques with higher success rates. These include visible support from top leadership within the organization (as noted, firm leadership is visible, engaged and active on our Innovation Team); clear communication tailored to key audiences; adequate training in convenient formats (an online knowledge base and videos vs. manuals); and an experienced support team.

Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as a marathon requires preparation on many fronts, the successful pursuit of innovation requires a holistic strategy. As for the role of technology, it is important to identify the appropriate places to introduce it as part of your solution. The best way to do so is to gain a full understanding of the business issue first and then consider the full range of solutions that can address the challenge at hand.

Amol Bargaje is passionate about leveraging technology to improve business processes and enhance client service delivery. An electronics engineer by training, he holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, is a Certified ScrumMaster and a Certified Scrum Product Owner. He serves as Global Director of IT Practice & Client Solutions at Mayer Brown, a global law firm. 


Reprinted with permission from the May 14, 2020 edition of Legaltech News © 2020 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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