Define The Term “Innovative”

Some skills in life can be taught and some just come naturally. This month our roundtable panelists discuss what it means to be innovative.

Our Panelists

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Robert Young (RY),  Aman Bagga (AB), Greg Siskind (GS), and Steve Embry (SE).

Are people naturally innovative or can people learn to be innovative?

DK: Although innovative people always seem to be naturally innovative, innovation techniques can certainly be learned. Even without specific learning, a good facilitator or a good innovation event can produce great results. That said, I’m a big advocate for learning innovation skills and techniques, and practicing them.

RY: Many law firms are truly in an innovate or die scenario—both in terms of the very structure of our firms and our ability to adapt to new technology. Although people are naturally innovative, it seems that the practice of law makes many lawyers lose that natural instinct. The sooner lawyers and law firms realize this, the better prepared they will be to thrive. After all, a law firm is no different really from any other kind of business. If we’re not serving our clients in the ways they need, they’ll look elsewhere.

AB: Although some people are more naturally innovative, almost everybody can learn to be more innovative. The key is having the willingness to try different ideas even after you fail.

GS: I think it’s a combination. People have a natural amount of innovation in them, but they are often raised in a way that stifles those instincts. But people can be trained to think more creatively.

SE: Great question. Some people I think are just more innovative. Being innovative requires some level of risk in addition to creativity. Some are more risk adverse than others. That’s not to say we can’t all work on being more innovate or at least thinking about it. Better put, we all need to be open to innovation if we ourselves are not naturally innovative.

What are you doing personally to be more innovative?

DK: I listen to several podcasts on innovation. One of the groups I work with at Mastercard actually puts on innovation events, so that’s given me a lot of insights. Doing the Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast also helps me because we have to come up with fresh approaches to new tech topics and Tom pushes me to think creatively before and during the podcasts. I also do a fair amount of reading about innovation. Possibly the most important thing that I do is to try to learn about completely new topics and look for patterns that connect to other topics. And nothing beats getting the chance to talk with or hang out with innovative people.

RY: For starters, I am encouraging lawyers in our office to stop running their practices like law firms and instead, start behaving more like any other business. While we do have unusual restrictions on our business, including how we market our services and garner new firm equity, we shouldn’t use those restrictions as our excuse to refuse to look at our business with new eyes. We all need to be aware of what is going on in the outside world, including advances in technology, changes in work habits, the emerging workforce, and what’s happening in the community. The key is connecting with the world beyond your office and the courthouse pillars to determine how to improve efficiency and profitability in your office.

AB: Reading, listening, thinking, and doing. There are many good ideas and reading or listening about them can help get me started. Thinking, learning and asking questions help me when trying to come up with solutions. Innovation comes from finding creative ways around constraints.

GS: I spend a lot of time reading and listening to the words of innovators and entrepreneurs to get good ideas and to get me thinking more innovatively. That may be reading books and blogs, attending conferences and webinars, listening to podcasts, etc. It also means setting up opportunities for brainstorming with colleagues to address challenges because innovation can be collaborative.

SE: Read, read, and read. Attend conferences innovative things are the focus and are discussed as opposed to substantive legal seminars (which achieve just the opposite). Write about innovations: its amazing how creative you can get when you have to communicate what others have done. And as I frequently tell people in my legal/tech presentations: don’t be afraid to push buttons to see how tech works.

What techniques have you seen be used to create an innovative workplace?

DK: I actually work in an open office concept, which is the current innovation approach of choice in office layout. I have mixed feelings about that, but I like the idea of having places to bring people together in spontaneous ways. Having whiteboards readily available also is a big plus. Because I’m at a global company, I also have the benefit of working with diverse teams from around the world and that is great. Videoconferencing can definitely play a role in the innovative workplace.

RY: Firms that utilize strategic planning, have changed their pricing structure and have made investments in internet marketing have experienced improved firm performance. Non-lawyers may be the most promising innovators in a law office—and need to be valued. Encourage them to contribute more by giving them opportunities to show their skill sets and invest them into the firm’s practice.

AB: Encourage collaboration. Work with others to find solutions that work for one person and determine if that can be applied to others. Have diverse teams review problem and brainstorm solutions. Mix up the groups and try again. That way ideas get spread from team to team, leading to different methods and possibly solutions. Even if things do not work out, learn what went wrong and continue to encourage creativity.

GS: Our firm actually has an innovation committee (yes, that’s its name). We meet every three weeks to talk about our firm’s systems to determine best practices and how to adapt them across the firm. We review how to solve problems using software including designing our own apps if there isn’t a product in the market (such as by using Neota Logic, the excellent expert system software product for law firms that doesn’t require programmer skills to use).

Our firm also has tried to promote meditation which has a lot of benefits including stress reduction and promoting creative thinking. We have had a meditation instructor come an offer free classes on a regular basis and received very positive feedback from our team.

SE: Giving people the chance to be innovative. The billable hour model actually discourages innovation since most of us aren’t rewarded for unbilled time. So emphasizing an expectation that a certain amount of time be used for thinking and creating. Google’s former 20% free time policy was directed at this. It had some shortcomings but most law firms don’t even come close to recognizing the possibility that good things could happen if there was some program to encourage thinking and innovation.

Are there any resources (books, websites, etc.) you used to become innovative?

DK: There is so much out there these days. Just pick a place and dive into whatever appeals to you. My innovation starts from mindmapping, so I would recommend Tony Buzan’s original book on mindmapping. I’m liking Whitney Johnson’s Disrupt Yourself podcast, the Future Squared podcast, and the IDEO Futures podcast lately, but there are many good ones. For myself, Clayton Christensen’s books on the innovator’s dilemma definitely played a key role. But it’s been on long and ongoing education for me. As I heard on an innovation podcast recently: “Don’t keep getting ready, get started.”

RY: I am a regular attendee at the annual ABA TECHSHOW, where lawyers and non-lawyers from all over the world come to figure out a way to better compete in today’s ever changing legal market. This is a must if you want your firm to stay relevant and profitable. I find the resources provided by the Managing Partner Forum to be on the cutting edge. I follow them on twitter and visit their website at least monthly. Although very self-serving, having the resources of the LTRC available via Twitter is also a must.

AB: There are plenty of books and websites that can provide resources and encourage thinking. However innovation comes from getting inspired to put ideas in motion. Asking questions, being curious, and researching issues, all help in coming up with solutions.

GS: I know I have a bias, but the ABA’s Law Practice Division has always been rich in resources whether it be books, magazines, or their great conferences and webinars.

SE: Honestly, there are probably too many to list. I have been most creative and innovative though when I read or listen to something that has nothing to do with law but which could be applied in whole or in part to things lawyers to. So I tend toward more general tech-related websites, blogs, and conferences.

What innovation do you see in the legal industry now and in the future?

DK: It really does feel like much of the innovation is happening outside of law firms, and, to a large degree, outside the US. There is so much happening in the legal tech startup world. And the big legal tech players like Thomson have really upped their games as well. You see the Legal Hackers movement, as well as cool things happening in law schools like LegalRnD at Michigan State, CodeX at Stanford, and the Iron Tech competition at Georgetown, to name just three. Dan Linna’s new innovation index should become an important resource and I have to put in a plug for LTRC’s innovation calendar where groups can add their legal innovation events to a combined calendar. Innovation is one of LTRC’s key focus areas for the upcoming year. It’s an exciting time. For the future, we’ll see how artificial intelligence will decide to hire lawyers who know how to handle artificial intelligence issues.

RY: One of the main reasons people don’t like to hire lawyers is they feel they lose total control over their matter. Empower your clients, by setting up client portals to giving them more power. It gives them the ability to stay up-to-date on their case, as well as review, change, and upload documents and a venue to communicate with their attorney. Online bill pay and allowing the client to complete the intake information before they even arrive at your office are other growing trends to empower the client. Happy clients refer you business. Use technology to make this happen. Consumers want fixed pricing and transparency. Compare this to a recent study that found that 70% of law firms have not changed their pricing strategy in the last five years. This is mind boggling! Legal project management and effective data evaluation are key to being able to give clients what they want without damaging the firm financially.

AB: There will be more automation in the legal industry. Computers may even make recommendations or decisions, by analyzing thousands of similar cases and providing guidelines. Other innovation may not come through providing a product or service, but could be through doing things in a different way. Innovative lawyers will be creative in finding ways to leverage new technologies and deliver better solutions to their clients. One other solution could be using technology to find ways to settle matters, by working on narrowing the differences in position between opposing sides, to come up with a framework for compromise.

GS: Everyone’s talking about artificial intelligence and I do see this as a great area for fostering innovation. Rethinking processes to determine how much of what we do can be automated is not knew, but the capability of new systems will dramatically expand this. Lawyers are going to be forced to innovate to figure out how best to serve clients and remain profitable in the new environment. I see some lawyers thriving while others growing increasingly unhappy depending on how they adapt. Innovators who figure out how to use these new tools to deliver a higher quality product more quickly and less expensively will emerge as the winners.

SE: More open source, collaboration (which is not so much innovation as an approach to get to innovation). Less emphasis on billable hour model which would encourage innovation. More specifically, blockchain and AI will reverberate through the profession and drive all sorts of innovation across the board.

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