The paradox of law practice innovation

As those of you who know me know that part of what I enjoy the most about having my own legal practice is finding ways to innovate, including using technology more intelligently in the practice. I like practicing law, but the creative part of me really enjoys playing with new technologies or finding ways to apply existing technologies to my practice.

The difficulty, of course, is that as the principal lawyer in my busy practice, if I spend too much time innovating, I am not getting client business done. In other words, finding the time to invest in innovation is challenging for the smallest firms.The irony is that the practices that have the resources to innovate — large firms — seem to be the least likely to do it. I can suggest a couple of reasons for this. For starters, they may perceive that they are getting along just fine with existing business models. Also, from an individual and cultural standpoint, people who become lawyers are conservative by nature, and large collections of conservative lawyers, unsurprisingly, do not tend toward innovation. 

There are, of course, exceptions. The first law firm where I worked after moving to Chicago, Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar & Scott, is highly innovative both in their billing models and their use of technology. They were (and indeed still are) in the vanguard among law firms in both of these areas, and though they are primarily litigators and my focus is corporate and transactional, their innovative approach to lawyering was highly influential on me as a new lawyer and continues to be to this day. It is noteworthy that BBHPS was a spin-off from Kirkland & Ellis, a very large law firm (and, I should say, a fine one, where I practiced for a couple of years). Obviously, there was a decision that it would be better to innovate outside of the large firm.

So, what is the answer? Well, client work comes first but innovation can’t be shortchanged. It is one of the principles that goodcounsel was founded on. I am on the quest for the beneficial cycle: Work more efficiently, make time to innovate, innovation leads to greater efficiency, greater efficiency makes time for further innovation. That’s the goal, anyway.

Update: Not surprisingly, I suppose, others have written more generally about the “paradox of entrepreneurial innovation,” and reached the same conclusion — large companies tend not to innovate, even though they could, and smaller companies do tend to innovate, despite their constraints.

Categorised as: Law Practice Innovation

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