Thoughts From the LegalTech® Keynote on Creating a Framework for Innovation in Your Law Firm

law firm innovation

Dr. Jeff DeGraff, Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, gave a dynamic keynote presentation at LegalTech to an appreciative, engaged, occasionally-in-stitches, overflow crowd. His TED Talk training was in full effect. The great story-telling didn’t lack for social media friendly soundbites as evidenced by the barrage of tweets. Here’s a summary and highlights from his presentation.

If you’re really good right out of the box, it’s not innovation. Innovation is incremental, or you’re insanely lucky, and that luck will run out. Innovation has a failure cycle and you have to go through the cycle. Work on accelerating the failure cycle, not avoiding it.

All learning is developmental. One of the challenges is developing talent in your law practice is because professional services don’t scale very well and the development cycle takes a long time. So how do you accelerate the cycle? SODOTO – See one, do one, teach one:

  • See One: At this stage real data emerges through observation and sense making (Emerge)
  • Do One: At this stage ideas converge with actions, and direct feedback from experience and supervision alerts us to what is working and what isn’t (Converge)
  • Teach One: At this stage our knowledge and experiences allow us to expand our conception of the practice and formulate new ideas and ways of doing things that can be codified and taught (Diverge)

It’s not freedom that drives innovation, but constraints. Innovators use constraints to work around, to find alternative pathways.

Innovation is a four quadrant proposition and you’re only as good as your weakest quadrant.

law firm innovation

How you innovate is what you innovate. Choose the right set of capabilities, practices, and tools. Ask, “what doesn’t work?” and “What does work?” Let go of what doesn’t work. There’s a reason is doesn’t work. Focus on what works and make it better.

You have to risk to innovate, but try it with the smaller clients. Don’t fail in front of your big clients or key markets. Experiment to mitigate the risk. Run lots of tiny experiments that cost little money or time. Hedge your innovations.

Deconstruct to reconstruct. Take a look at some of the more imaginative people in your practice, like early adopters of technology or those finding novel solutions to problems. Deconstruct how they do it, why they do it, what rules can you deduce from it, and develop those rules for others to follow and to avoid mistakes and failures of the past.

Innovation is a work in progress. Make adjustments along the way. Have everyone in your firm contribute something unique to the process.

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