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Innovation in Law Firm Operations: Takeaways from LMA’s P3 Conference

06.26.19 | Susan Duncan

Nearly four hundred professionals gathered for the 7th annual P3: Practice Innovation Conference focusing on project management, process improvement and pricing and hosted by the Legal Marketing Association.  It was an impressive group of experts and very instructive to see how law firms continue to expand their commitment to legal operations and innovation in their efforts to improve client service delivery and value.  Included below are a few highlights from the conference sessions.

Curiosity and Cultural Intelligence are Required for Innovation

Dr. Arin Reeves is President of Nextions, an author and an expert in leadership and inclusion gave a presentation entitled Inclusive Intelligence: Recognizing and Interrupting Implicit Bias in the Legal Industry at the recent P3 Conference. She shared her insights on how specific implicit and unconscious bias influence the way people learn, work and lead.  At a time when firms are advancing innovative thinking and initiatives, better understanding and addressing patters of implicit bias will be essential to achieving success in these endeavors. Her insights included the following:

  • Our brains are hard wired for a fight. Our natural reaction to something we see or hear that isn’t what we believe to be true or reflects our experience makes us push back against it.  In general, lawyers are passive aggressive and tend to default to fighting or arguing when they feel challenged to think differently or take others’ views into account.
  • Unconscious biases limits opportunity and innovation. We often cannot see the truth without taking into account all points of view. Unfortunately, unconscious bias doesn’t allow us to consider others’ viewpoints and “truths.”  In order to create collective intelligence, we need to seek out differences to gain more individual knowledge.
  • Create and focus on the collective mission. When working on an exercise, task or initiative that requires collaboration and collective brainstorming, put your collective mission in writing and make it visible in the room at all times. Without this, everyone will default to their own agenda.
  • Seek and embrace productive disagreement. Consensus triggers unconscious biases and creates false agreement which results in the likelihood of action or execution falling by 50%.
  • Collaboration and collective decision making requires commitment and courage. All ideas need to be heard and to co-exist. Initially, in ideating and brainstorming for innovation, we need to encourage divergent thinking NOT convergent thinking.  A good rule of thumb is so to always ask more questions and listen than to make statements by a ratio of 2:1. More questions engender more trust and people are more likely to adopt changes you propose.

Lessons Learned from Chief Innovation Officers

In a program entitled Innovationville: How Law Firm Innovation Chiefs are Making an Impact, three innovation leaders (Kay Kim of Crowell & Moring, Linda Novosel of Blank Rome and Andrew Sprogis of Katten Muchin) shared their lessons learned and best practices. Below are some of the highlights and insights:

  • We try not to have “passion projects” – instead have “projects with intent.”
  • We make it worth the partners time to come to us – we don’t’ force innovation on them.
  • We find partners who want to participate and achieve small successes which then builds goodwill and momentum.
  • It is critical to equip the lawyers to talk to clients about what the firm is doing with innovation. Give them a cheat sheet and be sure they understand what you are doing and why and how it benefits the client.
  • Clients must drive the innovation and that is how we decide/prioritize which projects to invest time and money in. We tell partners they must bring us a client who will build the prototype with us, then bring me five more clients we’ll try the prototype out on.
  • We start with client service teams first – if they are important enough to be a client team, it merits and introduction to the innovation team. Then we go out and get the client’s insights, come back and download with the partners, then offer possible solutions. A caveat: meeting with clients requires that partners trust you.

Client and Firm Communication: It’s Tricky, Tricky, Tricky

Jae Um, Director of Pricing Strategy at Baker McKenzie and Casey Flaherty, Director of Legal Project Management at Baker McKenzie, concluded the conference with an introduction to a New Language of Value designed to make client and firm dialogue more effective.  Some of the highlights include:

  1. Only 2.6% of a company’s outside legal spend is on “bet the company” matters – firms need to be much more honest about what the level of value and importance their services play in the clients’ overall spend
  2. When pricing for value, you must price the NEED not the LAWYER
  3. Law firms exhibit some mix of three attitudes about change:
    1. We are trying but it is harder than expected
    2. We’ll do it if and when it makes sense for us (when we feel more economic pain, when clients ask for it, when competitor firms change we’ll follow)
    3. We will opt out since we don’t really need it (our delivery model is not broken)
  4. Advanced legal buy requires prioritization (which remains the domain of inside counsel) along the quadrant from Low to high risk and low to high strategic impact

Building Innovative Teams

Andrew Medeiros, Director of Practice Solutions at Pepper Hamilton, Amani Smathers, Senior Legal Solutions Architect at Davis Wright and Shea Smock, Practice Innovation Analyst at Chapman and Cutler provided a nice summary of steps to build effective teams for innovation:

Hire diverse, multi-disciplinary teams (see final section below on the range of experts now employed by law firms for innovation and legal operations)

Create a talent pipeline – this includes hiring interns who are still in law school or other professional schools with the required skills sets and fellowships, including recent law school grads who may be looking for an alternative legal career

Report directly to the decision-makers – To be successful, innovation requires top level support, investment and promotion.  Be sure you have direct lines of communication to C-Suite and senior partner leadership.

Teamwork – Work to bring your team together to understand and appreciate the diverse talents and perspectives (see section above on creativity and cultural collaboration.) Provide a “safe space” for divergent thinking, disagreement and failure in order to ultimately build harmony.

Look for the right traits in potential candidates – Among the most important are enthusiasm for technology, problem solvers, a “can do” attitude, willingness to share ideas, adaptable/able to learn new roles and skills, and a passion for lifelong learning.

Legal Ops and Client Value Roles are Rapidly Evolving

In addition to those responsible for business development and marketing (which were in the minority for this conference,) conference attendees and presenters had roles and titles that included:

Chief __ Officer/Director of…/Manager of…

  • Business Innovation and Finance
  • Business Operations
  • Business Operations Analysis
  • Client Quality
  • Client Service
  • Client Value & Practice Management
  • Client Value and Innovation
  • Clients & Markets Program Operations
  • Engagement
  • Financial Planning & Analysis
  • Innovation
  • Innovation & Value
  • Knowledge Management
  • Knowledge Solutions
  • Lean Solutions
  • Legal Operations
  • (Legal) Project Management
  • Legal Process Innovation
  • Legal Solutions Architect
  • Matter Planning
  • Operations & Pricing Analytics
  • Practice Development
  • Practice Economics
  • Practice Information
  • Practice Innovation
  • Practice Management
  • Pricing
  • Pricing & Matter Management
  • Pricing & Profitability
  • Pricing & Project Management
  • Pricing & Value
  • Pricing & Client Services
  • Pricing Analytics & Practice Management
  • Pricing Strategy
  • Process Improvement
  • Product Marketing
  • Revenue
  • Strategic Planning
  • Strategic Pricing & Analysis
  • Strategy
  • Transformation

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at [email protected].