Innovation is a muscle – how to train it

In this post, we’re going to take a look at innovation and technology at law firms. We have found that innovation in many ways behaves like a muscle. If properly trained and nurtured it makes the body strong, but if left malnourished or unused it will slowly atrophy with all sorts of long-term health risks.

  • profile Rebecca Sundqvist
    Rebecca Sundqvist
    Marketing Specialist - Donna

We’re going to examine some of the common mistakes people make when it comes to working out, as well as some of the techniques athletes use to perform at the top of their game. As you’ll see, you can apply the same mistakes and lessons to help grow your law firm’s innovation muscles.

Small innovations mean achieving larger goals 🏋️

The biggest mistake is not understanding the power of small, incremental habits.

We first make our habits and then our habits make us - John Dryden

Instead of waking up at 5 am, traveling to a gym, and punishing our bodies, start by waking up 15 minutes earlier, do some light stretches and simple bodyweight exercises at home. Once that morning routine becomes second nature, you can slowly start to increase the threshold.

Similarly, we see that most law firms prioritize big and important projects to take on first. When these projects inevitably run into difficulties, they fatigue the team to the point where people become resistant to change. Instead, successful firms focus on the routine. Set aside fifteen minutes for your team at the end of each week to brainstorm ideas of what one-hour projects could make work better. At the end of each month pick one idea to complete within that hour. When continuous small innovations are a daily routine, you are much more likely to succeed in achieving larger goals.

The power of habits 🏃

Keep in mind that when building habits there are a few important things to pay attention to. First, make it easy to keep going. People who set aside their gym clothes the night before are twice as likely to succeed.

According to the Altman Weil Flash survey “Law firms in transition”, the percentage of law firms citing “partners resist most change efforts” has increased in recent years, from 44% in 2015 to 70% in 2020. So don’t be afraid to search for barriers higher up the chain. Innovation requires engagement from the bottom up, but commitment from the top down. Do you need to run a full IT security audit on every tool you want to try? What if instead you just create a set of “safe documents” that anyone can use to play around with new tools and ideas.

Ideas win arguments not hierarchies - Steve Jobs

Second, make sure to think of incentives and motivation. For example, if your IT team is treated as a support hotline they will not be incentivized to help you try out new ideas and make changes, as it would just result in more work. Instead, maybe give them a bonus for how many ideas they helped your lawyers test in a year.

In our AI-powered plugin for Word, we have a feature that helps lawyers quickly look up the definition of a term in a contract. For contract review, that little improvement means lawyers avoid having to scroll up and down more than 11 km a year to look for definitions by hand. Do not underestimate the surprising effects that small improvements have when compounded over time.

Work smarter, not harder 🧗

We all know that elite athletes spend an incredible amount of time and effort honing their skills. What we seem to forget is that more than working hard, they work smart.

Contrast this with how most law firms approach innovation and technology. We often see a one-size-fits-none solution. When the US air force set out to design their first jet fighter, they lined up all the pilots and took measurements so they could design the cockpit to be as light and small as possible. They took all the average measurements and set them to work. But when the prototype was done none of the pilots fit in the cockpit, because none of them were perfectly average.

Not only are there vast differences in what tech tools work for what areas of law, but each individual will also have strengths and weaknesses that make some people experience problems others don’t, while other people understand a solution that others don’t. Rather than taking the average feedback as a way of deciding which one to pick, use those who loved the solution as a way to figure out who to pick the solution for.

We were surprised to find how novel our own business model of “pay per monthly active user” is in this industry, and it really shouldn’t be! You don’t need to buy a solution based on your firm size — have people opt if they want a license so that you stay nimble if something else comes along that one of your team prefers. There’s no more sure-fire way to kill innovation than for your lawyers to feel like they are being forced to use a solution that they didn’t want in the first place.

Get a coach! 🧘

The final lesson we can learn from pro athletes is to get a coach. For instance, we offer a speedy trial™ pilot program where we help you run a mini test and help you measure the “habit” in just 4 short weeks. But lots of newer legal tech companies will be able to help you run streamlined experiments like this (if you let them).

The only reason legal tech companies run complicated pilots and demos is that that’s what you’ve been asking for. If you want to get in the habit of innovation you need to be asking for short and quick tests and not see a pilot as a buying decision.

If you have the time, watch the presentation Rik made for ALTACON to learn more. 💪

Sign up for more gym sessions! Stay tuned for more hands-on exercises you can practice to train your firm’s innovation muscles.