Legal innovation has been a hot topic for the last few years, and that’s great. Society benefits when lawyers and technologists get together to improve our legal system. It goes without saying that technology plays a huge role in this endeavor, but there is far more to the process of innovation than just throwing a bunch of technology at a problem. Legal innovators have to make something that people want.
The books below helped my own law firm’s legal innovation efforts. They are just a select few out of potentially hundreds of books written on startups and product development, but for someone new to legal innovation or innovation in general, they provide a solid starting point for understanding the central concepts and language around building a new and innovative business.
The common thread running through all of these books is that customers are central to innovation. The best technology and the best ideas are all worthless if customers are not interested in using the result. In some way, all of the books connect the idea of product/service innovation to understanding what customers want – and finding out who those customers are.
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Everyone in Silicon Valley/Beach/Prairie has probably read this book, or at least heard others evangelize about it. It’s a crucial book on how to build a startup efficiently. The Lean Startup distills the current startup ethos of rapid product development: proposing hypotheses, validating them with users, improving the product, repeating.Rather than spending time on grand business plans, a lean startup begins with a small product, gets it to market and then incorporates feedback from real users. As legal innovators and attorneys, that might mean making a small software tool for our clients and then finding out if it works for them – or making a tool for our own practice to see if it saves time. If this improvement turns out to be useful, it can be grown and offered to others. The Lean Startup guides the reader through the nuts and bolts of how to do that.
- Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth
A great product with no customers might as well not exist. Traction helps you understand how to attract the right customers for your product. The book describes a variety of “traction channels” that you can use to find customers: email marketing, trade shows, business development deals, engineering as marketing, etc. There are nineteen of them described in this book. Legal innovators can benefit from this book because understanding where customers come from and what keeps them around makes for more robust and sustainable businesses.
- Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
The world’s strongest brands stand for something. Why do the companies do what they do? While it’s tempting to settle on the what, this doesn’t drive or guide action. For legal innovators, “starting with why” might mean moving from thinking about what you do (“I’m a lawyer”) to why you do it (“I am helping distressed homeowners get out of trouble,” for example). Making that shift allows you to expand the palette of possible offerings beyond what has traditionally been considered the practice of law. We thought this book was so important that we sent copies to all of the members of our legal subscription program.
- E-Myth Attorney: Why Most Legal Practices Don’t Work And What To Do About It
Law firms can create the most robust legal innovation. That starts from running a law firm like a business – and running a law firm like a business involves making repeatable systems for common processes. The central concept of the E-Myth Attorney is that lawyers should work on their business and not just in their business. Both my partner and I have read this book, and the ideas in it often play a role in our discussions about the future of our business. This has led us to automate a good deal of the day to day tasks in our practice and to develop new tools and offerings for our customers. That automation and those tools all become the seeds or saplings of any of our legal innovation efforts.
There are tons of amazing books on startups and innovation that I could have listed here, but I chose the ones above for their breadth and general application to legal innovation. It would be great to expand this list if anyone has any favorites. Please leave your comments below!