Legal Innovation as a concept was kicked started following the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 when people and business around the world realised they would have to start doing more with less. It took another 5 years before innovating the profession was tackled more directly through the introduction of Legal Project Management (LPM), outsourced legal processing and a few disgruntled lawyers tired of repetitive manual activities and operations who set out to build technology to augment the delivery of legal services.
Legal innovation soon began to change how we had always done things, however, it was largely incremental, it was hard, and adoption was slow (despite the race to press release announcing every law firm’s differentiator as ‘innovative’).
Fast forward seven years to 2020, when a global pandemic struck and injected a much-needed booster to legal innovation catapulting it to today as we emerge from the pandemic, with a recognition that law firms, and in-house legal teams alike, would not exist without delivering innovative initiatives.
As pandemic panic set in, law firms became virtual legal service providers almost overnight navigating murky waters around how to keep billing within the constraints of working from home, in-house legal teams and corporates were forced to find new Covid-safe standard operating procedures, while alternative legal service and technology providers were gearing up to shine.
Suddenly new ways of working had to be deployed, law firm Partners had to adopt technology if they were to continue meeting client demands, while clients had to trust in the security of cloud delivered services as the new normal if business was to be sustained in uncertain times.
There has been a monumental – and very welcome – shift in the perception and adoption of legal innovation.
Enter innovating in the new normal
As we come out of the pandemic and begin tentatively resuming life as we once knew it, the new normal brings with it new innovation challenges:
- How do we get people back to the office?
- How do we manage task delegation and meetings in a hybrid work environment?
- How do we deploy new ways of working?
- How to we train and upskill our staff?
- How do we deliver innovative services more efficiently?
- How to we build and retain human connection with each other and our clients?
Legal leaders across the profession have had to adopt and manage change in a way not previously seen. New processes have been developed, augmented by new and existing technologies, to drive better business outcomes. As a result, change management as a discipline has risen as a necessary tool in the expanding skill set of these leaders to deliver efficient client services and manage employee expectations.
Managing the people side of change in a hybrid work environment presents new challenges, and opportunities, for legal innovation practitioners. After all, innovation is about people, not technology.
To help answer these challenges and innovate in the new normal, we need to start at the beginning. The best place is by reviewing your business processes, from onboarding clients and staff, to managing contract lifecycles, to triaging tasks and enquiries, and collaborating with peers and customers.
4 Steps to innovating in the new normal
Step 1: Review the current state
- Identify and map each process: who is involved, list the steps and approval points, and where the process begins and ends.
- Note where issues arise: including bottlenecks and barriers, which step/s create the longest delays, where does the process fail, are there steps that increase costs, impact resources, or reduce quality?
- Note any exceptions to the usual process: what are they, how are they managed?
- Brainstorm with people involved in the process to bring them on the transformation journey with you, uncover what frustrates them the most, where the bottlenecks sit, what barriers exist, and also what works; explore the root cause of the issues, the impact and how they could be overcome, look for opportunities to streamline and standardise.
Step 2: Analyse the process and feedback
- Prioritise the key process issues and opportunities (by either time, cost, most frustrating, or another metric that arose during discussions).
- Think about solutions to overcome the pain points, and/or improve the process, can steps be removed, are additional steps required?
- In an ideal world without constraints (eg. time, cost, resources, existing systems and tools) what could the process look like, what is on the wish list?
- Explore how technology (new or existing) could help augment or automate parts, or all, of the process.
Step 4: Map the future state
- What are the objectives to improve the process (are they realistic and do they align with the strategic business goals)?
- Map the future state process based on the insights gained, test with key stakeholders and those likely to be impacted, then revise, refine and re-test.
- Once the future state is finalised, outline the implementation process to get you from A to B (including what resources, investment, time and training is required).
Step 5: Manage the people side of change
- Develop a change management plan to increase user adoption and transition to the future state.
- The plan should include how you will raise awareness about the change (the ‘why story’), how it will be done, and what the benefits will be. The aim is to build up a desire for people to be involved in the change, ensure they have the skills and knowledge on how to change through targeted communications and training, and reinforce and embed the new way of working long after implementation by celebrating the successes and addressing any knowledge or skill gaps that remain.
The new normal brings new opportunities to do things differently. However, before applying a legal technology bandaid, first do your homework to understand the current process: how it could be enhanced, what impacts will it have, how will you manage the change, what issues could technology help solve?
Then dive in to innovating in the hybrid environment, bring your peers and clients with you on the journey and deploy improved, more efficient processes, services and products that will be adopted and embraced.