There is so much talk about innovation. People who have actually done something innovative are drowned out by people who are talking about innovation. Some law firms are quietly experimenting with technology and new service delivery models, while others are flashing new programs, new initiatives, new resources. In-house legal teams are asking smart questions of their law firms without really explaining what they need. Meanwhile some are completely re-thinking who should be doing certain types of work re-defining what it means to take smart risks. Still, there are lots of voices online who have tons of passion and energy on the subject of modernizing legal services but have not actually tried it themselves. The writings and posts are certainly well-intended, but they are misleading as to what is really happening in the industry and where innovation is taking place.

The reason for all of this confusing information all over the web is that innovation is not easy. The definition is unclear. Spotting innovation in its true form is rare. Sometimes there are hints of it, but when you lift up the hood – disappointment. Other times all the right ingredients are there for innovation, but the outcomes are disappointing. Truth is that innovation is just not that easy. It is not overly complex… innovation {to me} means doing something different than before which produces tangible benefits and measurable improvements. It is not a big bang of activity. It comes in small, painful little wins along the way. It is a series of minor improvements to stale processes. It is the implementation of a feature inside the technology that is already deployed. It is choosing to accept more risk by enabling others to self-serve, so the business can move faster. Innovating is not complicated, but it is hard! It is hard work to get people to change. It is hard work to justify the need for more budget. It is hard work to make technology work the way it was intended. It is hard to accept risk and convince others it is ok. And it is very, very hard to let go of doing things the way you’ve always done it.

Now that I have shared my definition of what innovation is, I suggest the following three easy steps to start innovating today:

1

Ask why it is done that that way.

People don’t love to be asked why they do things a certain way. Some may get defensive when asked. Others may not have a good answer and will feel uncomfortable, but that is ok. That is exactly what prompts the right kind of thinking. Just asking the question alone can be the first step in inspiring change. Even if they don’t like the answer or can’t answer, when asked enough times, they will begin to think and wonder. Curiosity is key. If you can make someone be more curious about how they do their work, you are already on the right path.

2

Try a small tech change today.

Focus on what you can control and make a tiny tweak. Think about how you prioritize your work for the day. Is there a way to be a little more efficient? Something as simple as using the tasks flagging feature in Outlook can save you time and stress in keeping up with all the things that need to get done. Maybe apply the changes to just one area of work, and start small. Similarly, color-coding your calendar items, or creating simple e-mail filing rules can de-clutter your daily view. Yes – these are small things. Hopefully, you are already doing them, in which case you can move on to more sophisticated changes, like sharing documents with links to a cloud storage location, instead of e-mailing attachments.

3

Identify a measurable goal.

Change for the sake of change is just painful. Identify a specific goal that you can measure so you know you were successful. It doesn’t have to be a hard science, but it should be something that objectively will be clearly a beneficial change. Think about reducing the number of times of you have to interact with the business client before you can start working on their project/matter. Is there a way to create a more effective intake process using a simple template or form? Is there a way to respond to the initial request in a way that reduces further back and forth?

Any of these small changes, if taken seriously, can be a great step in innovation. It is easy to make broad sweeping statements about how slow legal is to adopt technology, and how old-fashioned lawyers are when resisting change. BUT it is much harder to actually live the changes and be the change agent in an organization. Anyone can start today.