The organizational structure at most law firms is pretty much the same. At the top, there’s the founding attorney, or the partners depending on the size of the firm. Then there are the associate attorneys. Then the paralegals, the marketing person, the legal assistants, the secretary, and the other admin staff members. It’s a pretty standard structure. But after having worked with thousands of small and mid size law firms, we’ve started to notice that one key job role appears to be missing or underrepresented in the majority of firms. So what is this important job role that many firms are missing? Read on to find out.
What Role Are Law Firms Missing? Innovative Leadership
Building and maintaining a successful business in any industry requires innovative thinking and open mindedness toward new ideas. It seems counterintuitive, but striving to avoid risks and maintain the status quo can actually be riskier than doing something new and different.
The most successful businesses have leaders who are champions for change in their organizations and in their industries. They take it upon themselves to not let their businesses stop innovating or become stagnant.
But from what we’ve observed, this role of innovative leadership is all but absent from the legal industry. Very few law firms have anyone on staff who is charged with the task of innovating, seeking out new opportunities, and finding better ways to deliver services to clients.
At the most successful firms we’ve worked with, the innovator role is usually at least partially fulfilled by one of the partners. But at most of the firms who are struggling to grow, it is often missing altogether.
Law firms are stuck doing things the way they’ve always been done, despite rapidly advancing technology all around us. When we think of today’s best businesses, they’re almost always the most innovative companies (Amazon, Google, Uber, etc.). Meanwhile, many law firms still use software from the 90’s and store paper files in their offices. It’s no wonder lawyers are so bad at business.
What Does Law Firm Innovation Look Like Today?
Needless to say, law firms today are behind the curve when it comes to technology and innovation. Everything from the software they use, to their websites, to the tech savviness of their staff tends to be lagging behind compared to other industries.
The innovation that does occur in the legal space tends to be from non-law firms, such as software companies and alternative legal services providers, e.g. LegalZoom and Axiom.
One issue we see fairly consistently is that firms attempt to outsource their technology and innovation to a consultant or IT firm. This may have worked in the past, when technology was less important, but in the future, the use of technology is going to become critical for running a successful law practice.
As they say, you should only outsource things that are non-core to your business. It might be time to fire the IT guy and hire a software developer instead.
Delegating change management
The other problem that we see fairly often is that partners at law firms will attempt to delegate the implementation of new processes or technology to lower level staff. This inevitably leads to failed implementations, as well as wasted time and money.
Although delegating is certainly an important skill for an effective leader to have, delegating the way your firm innovates is never going to work.
The Job Description of An Innovative Leader
You should be able to clearly see that having a role for innovative leadership in your law firm is key for your longterm success. But what does an innovative leader actually look like? And what can you do to become one?
Here are some of the key attributes of an innovative leader:
To be an innovative leader means being at the cutting edge of your industry, which requires the constant consumption of knowledge about all the latest advances and trends.
An innovative leader is someone who pays close attention to the changes happening in the world, strives to learn new things every single day, and then applies those lessons to their own work.
Implementing new technology
Technology is the biggest driving force for change in our world, and the rate at which technology advances is increasing, meaning more changes are coming, and they are coming fast.
Innovative leaders are not only paying attention to the technological advances taking place in their industry, they are the ones driving the adoption of new technology, or even the development of it.
Championing change across their organizations
A successful organization must implement changes internally in order to keep up with the changes happening externally, and with technology, changes can happen extremely fast.
An innovative leader acknowledges the importance of change and maintains an agile, open minded approach to business. They are champions of change in their organizations. They don’t avoid making changes, or delegate the task to someone else.
Why The Lack of Innovative Leadership Is So Problematic
The legal industry has gotten by just fine without much innovation for a long time, but this tendency to lag behind and be complacent is becoming dangerous as we face an uncertain future in the legal industry. In other words, it’s only a matter of time before the lack of innovation comes back to bite the industry in the a**.
When you fail to notice the changes happening around you, or worse, resist them, you expose yourself to the risk of being completely blindsided by a more innovative competitor who builds a better business model and blows your business, or even your entire industry out of existence.
Think about what Netflix, Amazon, and Uber have done to Blockbuster Video, Borders Bookstore, and the struggling taxi industry. We’ve seen the same story time and time again, and today’s law firms might be next.
So whether you’re a partner at an Am Law 100 firm or a sole practitioner, it’s time for the next generation of law firm leaders to be leaders in innovation and change, not just the people sharing the profits.