Eight Essentials of Innovating a Law Firm: Making it Stick

GeneralFeb 25, 2020

Law firms must take innovation seriously to stay relevant in today’s rapidly changing legal market. We believe so strongly in this idea that we’ve embedded it into our DNA - starting with our name, which is derived from McKinsey's eight essentials of innovation. Last week we explored the first four essentials of innovation: aspire, create, discover and evolve. In part two, we will focus on the other four principles: accelerate, scale, extend, mobilize. These concepts focus on repeatedly delivering powerful results and how to support innovation continuously within the firm. It’s about putting theory into practice to sustain innovation and make it part of the fabric of a law firm rather than an afterthought.

1. Accelerate

One of the biggest obstacles to success in a law firm is the structure of the firm itself. In fact, 69% of partners see themselves as the biggest obstacles for change. That’s crazy! Nearly seven of every 10 of senior lawyers admit that they are actually blocking progress. The McKinsey principle about acceleration focuses on balancing approvals, rules and regulations while ensuring that innovation projects are successful. This is a perfect approach for law firms, which tend to get mired in quicksand when it comes to innovation.

The bureaucracy in most law firms makes it hard to push innovation projects through to implementation. After all, it’s easy to freeze in the face of legal obligations to fill, client privacy to consider, and data to protect. All of these hurdles will most likely weaken the success of innovation projects. The key is not to avoid bureaucracy, but to ensure that the bureaucratic process is efficient enough for innovation projects to launch quickly once they are developed. This includes having the right teams in place to support the project and make decisions in a timely manner. It also means dedicating time and resources to getting the projects off the ground. If innovation gets stuck in the bureaucracy phase, the passion and excitement about them will dwindle. That’s the kiss of death for almost any project.

2. Scale

Some projects are built to support a specific departments practice group, while others are built to benefit the firm as a whole. Depending on the size of the firm, project involvement could range from a few people to dozens of lawyers. Considering the scale of the project early on will ensure that it meets demand when it is time to implement it. Projects can scale as the firm scales, but some ideas are meant to be big and some are meant to be small. This also means making sure that the project or solution into which the firm is investing matches the size of the market that will be using it.

By considering scale early on, firms not only are able to ensure that a project is able to perform for its intended purpose, but they can also decide the appropriate resources to allocate. Consider the size and reach of a project to decide the importance of it, then allocate resources and assign a risk tolerance to pursuing the strategy. If the risk outweighs the benefits and reach, reconsider the plan.

3. Extend

Cultivate a culture of collaboration, both by actively seeking out opportunities to collaborate and by becoming a valuable partner with outside experts. Talent pools extend beyond the firm, especially when it comes to innovative technology integration. Find out where the firm’s network extends through personal connection, partners, and clients - and use those connections to extend the network of experts, creativity and solutions. It is impossible to know where the next great idea will come from, so ensure that the firm is using all available resources to help projects succeed.

Outside collaborators will also need to benefit from the partnership. Use the talents at the firm to drive value for others and use internal resources to act as a thought leader to partners. Empower associates and employees to seek out opportunities for collaboration. Make sure experts want to work with the firm by extending internal resources to them.

4. Mobilize 

The final step to maintaining consistent and powerful innovation is to mobilize staff, partners and associates to continue to innovate. Plan to energize and encourage the firm to make innovation a long-term goal that is reassessed on an ongoing basis.

There are a few ways to ensure that innovation continues to be a priority within the firm. One is to link innovation projects to the long-term growth strategy of the firm. If innovation projects and strategy are connected, there will be more emphasis placed on them. Another way is to make sure that people are organized to innovate within the firm. This can be achieved by introducing programs that encourage innovation, such as speaker series or meetings between departments. Organizing the process of collaboration in the firm will help to build cross-departmental projects. FInally, motivate team members to innovate by incentivising innovation. Firms are already structured around a profit-driven approach. If it makes sense, motivate the firm through incentive programs that relate directly to innovation projects to drive participation.

Taking the Next Step in Technology Transformation

We’ve outlined steps that firms can take to first inspire and shape creativity, and then the best ways to continue supporting creativity within a forward-thinking law firm. Although it may seem counterintuitive to plan a structured program that inspires others to think creatively, in the environment of a law firm, which is built on rules and regulations, building out a strategy for innovation may be the only way it becomes a priority. Using McKinsey’s essentials of innovation, law firms can begin to set a path for revolutionizing their environment and staying ahead of technology transformation.

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