LAW FIRMS: THIS IS WHAT INNOVATION LOOKS LIKE

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Last week I wrote about innovation for lawyers, the article answers the question we hear often in the legal sector: “who do we look to for innovation?”.  I explained in this article that the last place to look is your peers and competitors.

Over the next few articles let’s try and answer a more important question:
“what are the building blocks or pillars of innovation?”

I like to pay attention to the top performing entrepreneurial companies – they’re typically the innovators – organisations like Apple, Amazon and Uber are all undeniably at the top of their respective industries because they consistently innovate.

What few realise is that each of these companies actually follow a set of strong disciplines around innovation and that these disciplines are regularly practiced ensuring that they continue to innovate beyond their first big idea.

If you look closer at these successful businesses you’ll see that they are market leaders because they are highly innovative in these three key areas (what we’ll refer to as the 3 Pillars) – these are:

1. Increasing Efficiency

2. Increasing Revenue

3. Maximising Business Continuity

To highlight some examples of these pillars of innovation – Amazon has the world’s most efficient warehouse and distribution systems which keeps their operating costs to a minimum.  Uber have an aggressive revenue expansion strategy through the development of an App for both drivers and passengers to connect and this has disrupted the taxi industry in almost every major city in the world.  All of them have rock solid IT infrastructure and data protection processes ensuring their successes aren’t disrupted by technology mishaps.

I’ve said before that I believe that legal has a lot of room for disruption because it is an industry that affects almost everyone globally, an industry that defines how we act and how we do business together so it stands to reason that if law firms focus their efforts around these 3 Pillars for Innovation that ideas will form that put you ahead of your competition.

Because these 3 pillars are such a big topic, this week we’ll discuss how you canIncrease Efficiency in your law firm.

Increasing Law Firm Efficiency

Increasing efficiency is by far the most popular area for innovation in a law firm.  Lawyers are often systems focused looking at ways to reduce cost and keep administration to a minimum.  That’s fine – but if you’re going to innovate then it’s important to know that some of the common suggestions for increasing operational efficiency don’t go nearly far enough to be considered innovation and do little to create a lasting competitive advantage.  I consider operational efficiency in two categories.

1. Current Thinking

Current thinking is to look at what other firms are doing and try to emulate their approach. There may be some quick gains to be had but it will not create a sustainable competitive edge.

2. Innovative Thinking

Innovative thinking is to consider how to disrupt a process in your business or industry, to find such a tremendous gain that it creates lasting value for you and your clients.  Uber could have opened up yet another taxi company with an app but instead they pioneered in the sharing economy to disrupt a traditional industry forever.

Current Thinking: “Go Paperless” | Innovative Thinking: “Automate”

Law firms often talk about going paperless, many have achieved it while others herald it as the next big thing – whilst there are advantages to scanning and storing documents electronically, it’s a small step within a much bigger opportunity which is to automate many of your manual systems and processes turning them completely electronic and removing bottlenecks.  This might mean converting all your forms and documents to be accessible via your website in a single click.  It might also mean creating an app to communicate directly with your clients.  These ideas aren’t disruptive in and of themselves but it takes the paperless idea beyond current thinking.

Current Thinking: “Reduce Headcount” | Innovative Thinking: “Scale using Global Resources”

With wages rising and productivity a constant battle it’s tempting to consider decreasing headcount (or at least not re-hiring when someone leaves) but innovation means looking outside the box to solve a problem.  While some law firms decrease headcount and hunker down waiting for the economy to bounce back, others are scaling up and they’re doing it by providing a flexible workplace for their Australian staff and/or utilising offshore staff to improve productivity and agility.  How does this happen?  Through better technology and communication systems.  By providing a flexible workplace and versatile technology systems your firm can attract top players pretty much anywhere in the world.  It’s a technique that is creating new startups and aggressive competition.. But it’s a technique that is available to everyone.

Current Thinking: Change practice management software | Innovative Thinking: Think like a technology company

Practice management tools are evolving so it’s common to consider an alternative especially if you’ve been with the same provider for many years.  But in reality Practice Management is just the tip of the iceberg.  The reality is that most practice management tools won’t go as far as making you an innovative firm.  Innovative Thinking is either maximising all of the features of your Practice Management software (few law firms actually do this..) or looking at what is lacking in your Practice Management and start to think like a technology firm – could your firm develop something that the other firms don’t have? Could developing this new widget make you stand out from your competitors?

Increasing Efficiency is 1 of 3 important pillars for growth and innovation.  Next article we’ll explore how to increase revenue through innovation and technology.

To your success,

James

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About the Author: James Vickery is the founder and CEO of I Know IT, a transformative IT services provider. James connects law leaders to their strategy through technology with a firm belief that lawyers must re-enter their profession as innovators, thinking and acting as technology companies do in order to survive, compete and prosper in a digital economy.

James enables this new way of thinking and executing through consulting, coaching and delivery of technology solutions to Australian and international organisations. .

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