Innovation is a hot topic of conversation among legal professionals, but most legal organizations haven’t moved the needle as much as one might expect, responses to Bloomberg Law’s second State of Practice survey suggest.
Despite having some innovative goals in mind, most legal organizations do not yet have an innovation team, a Chief Innovation Officer, or even an innovation road map in place. And while innovation likely means different things to different organizations, any level of innovation—no matter how big or small—will be difficult to achieve without a dedicated team.
The State of Practice survey asked 382 law firm and in-house attorneys about the development of innovation teams and initiatives (or lack thereof) at their current organizations. Notwithstanding the drive for new business models and technologies that grew with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, most respondents surprisingly reported a lack of concrete growth and progress when it comes to innovation at their firms and legal departments.
This likely stems from not enough organizational structure and support, as over half of the respondents reported that their organizations don’t currently have an innovation team. Seventy-two percent of respondents also reported that their organizations don’t have a Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) or the equivalent to properly lead innovation initiatives.
Barriers to Building Innovation Teams, Road Maps
There are likely a variety of barriers preventing firms and corporations from building out innovation teams and hiring a dedicated CINO.
One hurdle may be that creating a team of this nature is a complex endeavor in an area that’s still fairly new to most legal organizations. Not only is it new—which may be a deterrent in a profession that has often been regarded as risk-averse and resistant to change—but innovation also requires time, money, and support, all of which are deterrents for many professionals, not just lawyers.
Another barrier to assembling an innovation team may be the question of whom to include in it, specifically: What specialties and expertise are needed to produce a truly qualified innovation team? The same queries apply for finding the right CINO, as leading the legal innovation process is a significant undertaking that likely requires a variety of skillsets, ideas, and—most importantly—a true commitment to innovation in spite of the resistance and skepticism that person is likely to face.
Moreover, when asked whether their organization has an innovation road map in place, 86% of lawyers surveyed said they either don’t currently have one or are just not sure. And quite frankly, if respondents are “not sure” if their organization has an innovation road map in place—even if there is one—it’s likely not well-established and thus lacks an effective reach across the organization.
Not having a clear approach and strategy is likely an additional barrier to the growth of innovation in legal organizations, alongside the lack of teams and authority. The two undoubtedly go hand in hand, as it is only with the proper team that an organization can develop the proper road map.
Despite the fact that many legal organizations lack any formal direction, the good news is that many have at least some innovation goals in mind. According to survey respondents, the most common innovation goals are: DEI initiatives, remote work capabilities, and technological advancements.
And while it’s great to have fostered goals like these, it seems almost counterintuitive to have important objectives on the radar with no team or strategic road map in place to actually implement them.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Looking ahead, it’s important to remember that innovation is making its way into the legal profession whether we’re ready or not, and it will be critical for organizations to embrace it head-on with a proper team and a strategic plan.
Although having innovation goals is a great starting point, without a team and proper guidance, these goals may never become reality. And as innovation becomes more than a buzzword, potential clients may choose one firm over another due to its leadership in innovation.
Some law firms that have already made great strides in this area include Reed Smith, Orrick, and Blank Rome, which have hired CINOs, focused on developing innovation strategies, and even created an innovation lab.
It will be interesting to see which firms and in-house teams will join these leaders in legal innovation, by putting their resistance to change aside, and fully embracing the benefits of building an innovation team and strategy.
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