A. Using the wrong approach to innovation, followed by an effective one-by-one approach that did not scale.

The biggest mistake that I made as the US innovation lead at a global law firm was in trying to teach lawyers how to “do” innovation—how to do my job.  My intention was to empower them with NewLaw resources to better solve legal and business of law challenges for their clients.  I felt privileged to have this magic wand of innovation, of robust problem-solving, to offer them.  But I chose the wrong method at the outset.  And, unfortunately for my mandate, intention does not equal perception.

For an introductory note on the NewLaw Fundamentals Q&A series, see Post 242.

My misguided early effort created confusion.  Confusion is bad.  If people are confused about the value of an offering, they will dismiss it (and rightly so).  For me that meant the perception, among some, that legal innovation did not apply to their worlds, to them or their clients, and I lost them. I let the causalities lie and changed tactics.  Instead of trying to teach lawyers NewLaw, I approached internal engagement through a “call me when” campaign.  This worked surprisingly well.

Then, similar to how a great lawyer counsels a client with critical “what you need to know” information using the client’s business terms and industry language, I learned to guide teams with bite-sized, plain-English options and work product and empower them through critical moments of visibility throughout the process.  After those successful moments of progress and visibility, and only after, I might mention that we had just used design-thinking to solve their problem.  Then, design thinking was real.  Then, it had personal context, which sparked curiosity and interest in the new concepts, tools, and methodologies.  These were impactful, successful, and innately satisfying experiences.

The major limitation and significant problem with this approach, however, is that it does not scale.  This is a one-by-one conversion model, a heavy and time-consuming burden.  It will not meet the demands of the profession.

I can hear law firm innovation professionals now, “but, Anusia, you then leverage those successful use cases for a broader roll-out and engagement, then it does scale!” See, e.g., “Reed Smith Rolls Out No-Code Partnership With BRYTER,” Artificial Lawyer, May 1, 2021 (giving an recent example of this approach). Maybe, maybe not.  You still must onboard all those lawyers, find a use case that fits squarely in their world, and build out the initial stages for them.  That is one-by-one, just with more demand.

Tess Blair

Tess Blair, the leader of Morgan Lewis’s eData practice, said to me a few years ago, “The business side of a law firm is where innovation goes to die.”  I’m not convinced that is 100% true, but I take her point. On the business side of a law firm, NewLaw remains peripheral, not core.  No matter how many press releases, at the end of the day, business-side innovation folks are saddled with a one-by-one conversion model.  This is a problem.  NewLaw needs lawyers engaged to reach our tipping point.

And, the problem doesn’t live solely in the law firm environment.  It is pervasive.

I receive 20+ meeting requests annually from law firm lawyers, ranging from senior associates to rising managing partners, and in-house lawyers who all ask:

  • So, what is it you do exactly?
  • What opportunities are there for me, either to bring this into my organization or to jump out of my firm into NewLaw?
  • How do I learn more about that?

The one-by-one conversion effort begins.  We have a call and I listen and react to their situation and goals.  I then provide the requested follow-up email with NewLaw resources that I cobble together.  The best outcomes are email updates I receive six months later about how the lawyer started an innovation initiative or moved in-house to get closer to NewLaw, or the launch of collaborative projects or engagements with my company (always nice, but for the record I am not incentivized this way).

For the most part however, let’s say 70%, these interactions end with my follow-up email.  I occasionally look at the 70%’s LinkedIn profiles and the content remains the same—traditional lawyer bio language without even a dash of NewLaw.  Sigh.

I feel responsible for the 70%’s lack of movement.  As with the previously referenced casualties of too much too soon, I fear that my approach with this group has also failed.  If they made the effort to come to me with curiosity, and then nothing comes of it, then that is on me.  What am I doing wrong?

Upon reflection, my hypothesis is that the failure lies in the resources I provide—they are far too advanced for the newly acquainted.  The problem is that sophisticated analyses and deep-dive resources are all that is available.  The NewLaw community is comprised of experts in their fields who publish expert content.  Great for our community, not so great for newbies.

What’s needed?

What’s needed, it seems, and what I’d like to provide in this column, is an entry point for lawyers into NewLaw.  Legal Evolution publishes leading content, my goal is to provide “the basics” type content in a leading way.  At least leading in one sense of the word—leading lawyers into NewLaw, into our community.

And let me add a clarifying note. While the goals of this column are geared towards lawyers, my intention is not to minimize a similar need geared towards allied professionals.  Allied professionals are a necessary part of the equation—bluntly stated, you cannot “do” NewLaw without multidisciplinary talent.  But the entry points, questions, and engagement roles are different among lawyers and allied professionals.  With a goal of bite-sized clarity and conversion for lawyers, I’m intentionally limiting the scope of the column to lawyers so that it is built and fit for purpose.

Why bother?

The responsibility of OldLaw to NewLaw conversion rests with us—this community of innovators and early adopters, the subscription base of Legal Evolution.  We must draw lawyers in and up to their highest and best uses in the legal ecosystem to advance the legal profession and best deliver on client needs.  To do so, we need most lawyers acquainted with, and actively engaged in, the ways of NewLaw.

 Why us?

On a practical level, who else is going to step up and do it?  And, speaking in self-interest and the interest of my clients and colleagues, we stand to benefit from the influx of knowledgeable lawyer talent.

How can you help me, help you?

  • Assume responsibility. NewLaw community members have a generally understood and accepted the responsibility to accelerate the NewLaw agenda. If OldLaw to NewLaw conversion isn’t already something you do, include it in your responsibilities to your peers and the legal profession.
  • Take the meeting requests that come your way from lawyers wanting to know about your work. Better yet, invite them.
  • Point lawyers to this series as a resource for their understanding, engagement, and questions around NewLaw.
  • Engage in the content. This resource only works as an effective entry point for lawyers if it hits the right tone, uses the right language, and addresses the right questions.  Share it with your network for feedback and engagement or send me an email with your insights.

My intent is to reduce the one-by-one conversion burden on the NewLaw community in offering an approachable, public resource for the newly acquainted.  My responsibility becomes creating regular, topical content explaining NewLaw Fundamentals. Your responsibility is to scale its impact.

My hope is that our combined efforts will produce the perception among OldLaw lawyers that NewLaw applies to and has value for every one of them.  My hope is to bring more lawyers—whether in firms or in-house—into the fold, faster.

Together, let’s accelerate the NewLaw tipping point.

NewLaw Fundamentals Q&A is published on the first Wednesday of each month.