An honest and candid assessment of corporate legal, circa 2021


Several months ago, before we had even completed our first year of operations, Bill invited us to write a legal market year-in-review.  His reasoning was simple—our business model entails a lot of listening.  Over the past twelve months, we heard the hopes, dreams, and fears of 240 law firms and 327 law departments (corporate legal) spread over 2,600 meetings.

Perhaps you’re anticipating a conversation about what’s hot in Legal Tech and NewLaw.  And back when we accepted Bill’s invitation, that seemed like a logical direction.  Yet, much to our own surprise, we find ourselves writing a year-in-review essay that focuses on the primacy of culture and cultural adaption.

We are writing about culture because it is the only way, or perhaps the most direct way, for us to reconcile what we are experiencing on an individual level with what we observing at the group level.

On the individual level, we’ve never encountered so much enthusiasm for improving upon the status quo, let alone the attendant effort to manifest that enthusiasm as meaningful change. Yet the group-level impacts have not really materialized. In the parlance of diffusion theory, this means that the vast majority of creative energy is still bottled up in the innovator-early adopter portion of the social system.  See Post 004 (explaining Rogers Diffusion Curve).

The culture of the legal industry offers much worth respecting and preserving (yes, even Biglaw). This culture is a source of strength, integrity, and continuity. But, by design, the bias towards stability can also be an impediment to experimentation and growth. Given the changing macro conditions (e.g., improving technology, rapid globalization, cheap capital, regulatory reform, etc) that have managed to destabilize virtually every industry on the planet, a bit of rebalancing is in order—a legal evolution, if you will.

Over the past year, we have come to the conclusion that the culture of corporate legal is no longer well fit-to-purpose. The conditions around us have changed, and continue to change, in the form of ever-increasing demand paired with flat budgets. Yet conditions have not changed quite enough to cause an existential crisis, just chronic pain.

Here, we’d like to suggest that our proud culture of endurance — of learning to live with chronic and growing pain — is potentially fatal, as it cuts us off from adaptive strategies that are necessary for our survival.

A short preface on culture and cultural adaption

Searching for a suitable analog for what we are observing in our 2,600+ legal industry meetings, we landed on the story of the failed Franklin Expedition as told by the evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich in his book,  The Secret of our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (2015).

In 1845, a team of skilled and knowledgeable British explorers led by Sir John Franklin set off from the British Isles to explore the last unnavigated sections of the Northwest Passage. At stake was the completion of the global map of terrestrial magnetism, control of the Canadian Artic, and the potential of creating a more efficient sea channel between western Europe and East Asia.

Despite being equipped with state-of-the-art steam engines, coal-fired internal heating, desalinators, five years of provisions, including tens of thousands of cans of food, and a twelve-hundred-volume library, Franklin’s ships suffered the misfortune of being locked in by ice for more than a full calendar year.  After Franklin died, the crew was faced with the prospect of another year of imprisonment with dwindling supplies of food and coal. In April 1848, the second-in-command made the decision to abandon ship and set up camp on King William Island. Although the details of what happened next are not completely known, the archaeological evidence and scattered accounts from Inuit locals suggest that every member of the expedition suffered a truly awful death.

Henrich then asks the question, “Why couldn’t these men survive, given that some humans do just fine in this environment?” (p 25).

Henrich contrasts Franklin’s men with the local Inuit, who also spent winters out on the pack ice and their summers on the Island. “In the winter, [the Inuit] lived in snow houses and hunted seals using harpoons. In the summer, they lived in tents, hunted caribou, musk ox, and birds using complex compound bows and kayaks, and speared salmon using leisters (three-pronged fishing spears)” (p 29).  The Inuit name for the main harbor of King William Island can be translated as “lots of fat” (seal fat).  Overall, the Inuit locals perceived their environment as “rich in resources for food, clothing, shelter, and tool-making (e.g., drift wood).” Id.

According to Henrich, the reason Franklin’s men could not survive is that they failed to plug into the cultural adaptions of their Inuit brethren. “None of the 105 big brains [in the Franklin Expedition] figured out how to use driftwood, which was available on King William Island’s west coast where they camped, to make the recurve composite bows, which the Inuit used when stalking caribou.”  Likewise, they lacked “the vast body of cultural know-how about building snow houses, creating freshwater, hunting seals, making kayaks, spearing salmon and tailoring cold-weather clothing.” Id. at 26.

As Henrich observes, it’s unrealistic to expect any group of humans to figure out over the course of two years what another group has mastered over the course of a dozen or more generations.  Yet, it is not necessarily unrealistic to make a decision to learn from adjacent cultures.  The Inuits were known to Franklin’s Expedition as well as earlier British explorers. Indeed, fifteen years earlier, a smaller British expedition led by John Ross found themselves stranded in the same part of the Canadian Artic yet survived because they deliberately forged a trading relationship with the Inuits.

Henrich elaborates on a striking pattern:

The Franklin Expedition is our first example from the Lost European Explorer Files.  The typical case goes like this: Some hapless group of European or American explorers find themselves lost, cut off, or otherwise stuck in some remote and seemingly inhospitable place. They eventually run out of provisions and increasingly struggle to find food and sometimes water. Their clothing gradually falls apart, and their shelters are typically insufficient. Disease often follows, as their ability to travel deteriorates. Cannibalism frequently occurs, as things get desperate.  … When some do survive, it’s because they fall in with a local indigenous population, who provides them with food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and information. These indigenous populations have typically been surviving, and often thriving, in such “hostile” environments for centuries or millennia.

What these cases teach us is that humans survive neither by our instinctual abilities to find food and shelter, nor by our individual capacities to improvise solutions “on the fly” to local environmental challenges. We can survive because, across generations, the selective processes of cultural evolution have assembled packages of cultural adaptations—including tools, practices, and techniques—that cannot be devised in a few years, even by a group of highly motivated and cooperative individuals. Moreover, the bearers of these cultural adaptations themselves often don’t understand much of how or why they work, beyond the understanding necessary for effectively using them.

The Secret of Our Success at 27.

Here at LexFusion, we think are witnessing something similar.  As Henrich notes, culture is an inherited package of adapted group behaviors and tools that are fit-to-purpose for thriving under specific conditions.  Yet, when conditions change, cultures either adapt or perish. And with the culture, so go the people.

Do we possess the realism and objectivity to accurately assess our changing conditions?  Cf Post 277 (Jason Barnwell from his perch at Microsoft observing, “That is not the tide coming in. The seas are rising”).  Likewise, do we have the courage and humility to learn from adjacent cultures that, in earlier times, we’ve tended to view as intellectual inferiors?  As discussed below, most days, we are optimistic. But, on some days, we have our doubts.

In corporate legal, our conditions have changed

Let’s start with the obvious.

As recently observed by Jae Um in Post 279, “Demand is up. Like a lot.”  Levering off Jae’s preternatural rigor, flair, and insight explaining this “silent explosion of demand,” see Posts 216 &218, we offer the following observations on the resulting innovation imperative:

  • The absolute demand for legal expertise is increasing as a result of compounding legal complexity; this will continue (i.e., our environment will continue to change)
  • The relative cost of legal expertise is also escalating; this will continue unless and until we dramatically improve productivity (i.e., until we adapt)
  • The uptick in demand and costs powered the extraordinary growth of BigLaw for decades, peaking in 2007; BigLaw as a category is not in peril but practice areas and individual firms are under threat as substitution and dispersion accelerate. See Post 279 (discussing some of the modest consequences of a failure to adapt at the practice group level)
  • The central form of substitution has been in-sourcing by corporate legal departments to keep costs (but not demand) in check, largely through labor arbitrage, for now. See Post 262 (a modest adaption)
  • A complementary form of substitution has been New Law, which has also largely been a story of keeping costs (but not demand) in check through labor arbitrage, for now (another modest adaption)
  • Labor arbitrage is insufficient to meet the expected, compounding increases in legal demand; corporate legal budgets are not keeping pace
  • To truly bend the cost curve, we must materially improve productivity via innovation—i.e., leverage legal expertise through process and technology to execute well at scale and pace (i.e., significant adaption is required).

As Jason Barnwell has explained so eloquently, this is “our wicked problem.” Post 210. And no writing has better captured the kind of cultural recalibration required than Jason’s recent stellar exploration, “Legal evolution is industrial evolution (277),” in which he concludes:

Translated to the physical realm we are trying to operate a modern city with 19th-century transportation infrastructure. This will not work. I expect 10x leverage scenarios by the middle of the decade driven by demand with increasing complexity and velocity characteristics … .  And if we fail to evolve and adapt in ways that build upon industrialization principles that serve our humanity, our collective future is bleak.

Our “wicked problem” demands a cultural recalibration, not merely a technological augmentation. Tech is necessary. But tech is not sufficient. As the patron saint of this site, Everett Rogers, see Post 004, informed us long ago, “An important factor regarding the adoption rate of an innovation is its compatibility with the values, beliefs, and past experiences of individuals in the social system … the diffusion of innovations is a social process, even more than a technical matter.” Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed. 2003) at 4-5.

We at LexFusion say this despite our putative interest in increasing the sales velocity of tech and tech-enabled services. Our personal incomes are predicated on bringing together law departments, law firms, and legal innovation companies (products and services) to address the shared innovation imperative.  See Posts 203 and 267 (exploring the LexFusion model). But rather than identifying narrow problem/solution fit (still necessary), we have found our greatest challenge to be fostering cultural alignment to create the space necessary for successful and sustainable innovation.

From an innovation perspective, it is better out there than it ever has been. At the same time, innovation is not keeping pace with demand, resulting in irreconcilable tensions for every market participant. This is not an existential crisis. But it is saddening state of affairs given the collective potential to meet intensifying demand and the good-faith efforts of many to do so.

Our space is filled with too many intrepid explorers suffering in seemingly “hostile” environments despite the fact that nearly everything required to thrive has already been “discovered.”

Looking back on 2021

2021 was weird for the world. Pandemic. Politics. NFTs. UFOs. You were there. You know.

Fortunately, 2021 was also good for legal innovation and LexFusion.  As a company, we lived up to our motto to “grease the gears of commerce in legal innovation.” Through a grueling first year of market listening and matchmaking, we helped our member companies meet more market needs, booking make more sales and building stronger pipelines, than our most sanguine projections of what was possible from a cold start (boy, are we excited about 2022).

More importantly, we deepened industry friendships, and forged new ones, because we adhered to our belief that we build trust by adding value regardless of whether an interaction is monetizable. These exchanges of value were only possible because we found such openness to conversations about new ways of working and genuine enthusiasm for change. We’ll say that again, for the third time, because it is not said often in these parts: we found widespread, genuine enthusiasm for change.

Despite how this piece commenced and some admittedly dour reflections that follow, we are fundamentally optimistic. Not only because necessity is the mother of adoption, see Post 158 (Dan Currell updating the old adage), and necessity is encroaching in the form of escalating demand.  But also because each of us has been in this space for well over a decade and none of us has never encountered this level of interest in reshaping the status quo.

While inertia maintains a distressingly impressive win rate, the tenor of the median conversation has graduated from apathy to frustration. We recognize this does not sound much like progress, but it represents a massive shift in perspective.

Discussions around innovation in legal services likely date back to Hammurabi and his venerable Code—with seemingly scant progress since. When we made our individual ways into the space in the early 2000’s, there were grizzled innovation veterans explaining to us how they’d been fighting mostly losing battles since the early 1980’s. Even a decade ago, outside of a few outliers, broaching the topic of innovation largely elicited bored stares followed by dismissive lectures on the immutable nature of “real lawyering.” See, e.g., Flaherty, “Real Lawyers v. Cyborgs,” 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, May 16, 2016 (recounting how Ted Olson, during a LegalTech keynote, skewered the premise of the entire conference).

Today, almost every person we speak to goes well beyond paying lip service to innovation. They seem compelled to volunteer why their organization is so far behind where they know it ought to be—finite bandwidth, organizational constraints, systemic barriers, sunk costs, prior failed attempts, choice overload.

Underpinning these conversations is not just a sense of inevitability but a sense of stewardship. Almost everyone recognizes it is now part of their job to drive innovation, support innovation, or, at the very least, get out of the way so innovation can take hold. They also recognize they are falling further and further behind a constantly moving target.

Legal innovation is advancing faster and further than it ever has. This is not just true on the innovator side where investment and activity have exploded. See, e.g, Flaherty & Um, “Legal Technology: Why the Legal Tech Boom is Just Getting Started,” Nasdaq, Oct 11, 2021; Post 255 (Zach Abramowitz reviewing remarkable data for the first half of 2021 and suggesting that the legaltech ecosystem is entering maturity). This quickening tempo is also evident on the user side. More legal organizations are putting more effort into driving more innovation than would have seemed conceivable even a few years ago. When the point of reference is our previous baseline, these efforts are impressive and inspiring.

Source: Peter Ungphakorn, The 101.World

So much faster than before. Yet still not fast enough. The even more rapid upward acceleration of the demand curve is widening the delta between what we currently can do and what currently must be done, suffusing our space with a foreboding sense of losing the Red Queen’s race.

Which, again, we know, does not sound like progress, let alone optimism. Except, until recently, scant few acknowledged the reality of the race. Playing catch-up is infinitely more productive than denying the need to do so.

Indeed, one silver lining of the pandemic is a shift in perspective on terminal velocity. The seemingly overnight transition to remote work has put to lie doubts as to how rapidly our culture can adapt when necessity intrudes and the requisite infrastructure is in place.

The good news is that a fair amount of latent infrastructure is already in place. The depressing part is how few practitioners know it’s there.

The tragedy of orphaned tools

With demand intensifying, we regularly speak to lawyers at all levels and in all roles who are more overworked, overwhelmed, and burned out than ever before. With the mindset shift on innovation, almost every one of these hard chargers now also presumes there “must be tools available” that could alleviate the most time-consuming and soul-crushing aspects of their job—law is, but need not be, the most boring job in the world.

At the individual level, these lawyers are exceptionally smart, dedicated, and motivated. There is no dearth of talent or desire. Nor do we encounter much evidence that lawyers are technophobic or, on the law firm side, rapacious—i.e., resistant to tech because of a potential reduction in billable hours.

The lawyers are also consistently correct. Their loads could be lightened. The legal tech ecosystem has indeed exploded, with literally hundreds of excellent tools available and many more on the way. Cf Post 231 (comparing the current legal industry to the auto industry circa 1905).  A large swath of lower-order work can be automated or otherwise process/tech-enabled.

But the culture is not accommodating. Individual ambitions are thwarted at the organizational level. The need for transformation is not the main point of contention. But specific target operating models, and the capabilities required to support them, are fuzzy, at best, and therefore subject to interminable debate. Few have the time, and even fewer have the personal authority, to drive these debates to resolution—and then turn resolution into action. As we’ve noted here before, lack of specificity and accountability create ambiguity for consensus-driven organizations, as collective-decision making will almost always default to stasis. See Post 069 (Jae Um’s commentary on Microsoft’s efforts to break the logjam for both client and law firms).

The status quo’s substantial incumbency advantage means getting the right tools into the right hands turns out to be a fraught endeavor. It is sad when we can direct someone towards a fit-to-puropse tool that will make their life less arduous but the buying mechanics turn out to be too labyrinthine and friction-laden to make good things happen.

It is sadder still—and shockingly common—when no one even need buy a new tool because the organization has owned it, or a worthy analog, for years. Despite being outsiders, we know they have the tool from conversations with others in the organization, or from vendors selling into it. Yet the lawyers themselves have no clue the tool is at the ready.

How is this anything but a problem of cultural adaption?

Purgatory starts here

Many legal organizations move slow on purpose. Much of the friction in the legal tech buying process is intentional—an attempt to redress the tragedy of professionals not taking advantage of the tools they currently own.

Many legal operations and technology teams are under strict orders to slow their roll on new tool procurement until they drive adoption of tools the organization is already paying for. Many heads of ops/innovation/tech explain to us that it would waste their time to demo new tools because the only innovations they are currently permitted to pursue are innovations in change management.

This disconnect causes, and is caused by, an unfortunate level of enmity in every direction. The lawyers are annoyed by the lack of adequate tooling. The innovation professionals are discouraged by the lawyers not using the tooling they already have. When the innovation professionals roll out new tools, the lawyers react with skepticism, if they pay attention at all. Then when lawyers request new tools, the innovation professionals become exasperated. And the cycle continues.

While the sense of collaboration and community has been growing, it is not adequate to the need for collaboration and community. Internal organizational disconnects are one symptom of the broader social fragmentation of an ecosystem filled with frenemies.

Nominally, everyone works together—if not as part of the same organization, then as part of the same value chain. Practically, there are social divides that keep everyone at an unproductive remove from creating the synergies required to keep pace with demand.

Lawyers never trusted their innovation colleagues. The innovation professionals have lost faith in the lawyers. Law departments complain about their firms. Law firms, in private, express annoyance with law departments. Everyone dumps on New Law and tech vendors. And the new entrants, created specifically to solve extant issues — Inuits bearing seal meat — can’t believe how hard it is to convince individuals and organizations to do that which is in their own best interest.

The culture is not conducive to innovation and the result is far too many legal tech orphans—forever waiting to be adopted. Often, the orphans themselves are blamed.  Earlier this year, Bill raised the ugly possibility that unlearning an old paradigm may be much more difficult than learning a new one, with the logical implication that substantial progress hinges on the old guard dying out.  See Post 233 (suggesting that Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions applies to law).

For the moment, we’re content to argue that the culture of corporate legal is holding everything else back.

The missing feature fallacy

There is an eternal debate between conforming to user expectations (“meet them where they are”) and helping users expand their horizons (“often we don’t know something is broken until we are shown a better way”). Per usual, fertile and nuanced middle ground exists between these extremes. And, per usual, hitting that sweet spot is exceedingly difficult, and, even then, often insufficient.

Lawyers, for example, correctly complain about the limitations of Microsoft Word. But lawyers also never want to leave Word. Further, they steadfastly refuse to attain even basic competence with Word, let alone make use of the many purpose-built Word plug-ins designed to give that generalist tool some specialist superpowers.  See Flaherty, “CLE is Broken (as is our approach to learning/innovation),” 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, Oct 31, 2021.

Make it better. But also leave it alone. And don’t you dare make me learn. In many places, the abstract desire for better is genuine but the practical bar for adoption remains impossibly high.

[Click on to enlarge]
The unexpressed requirement is for the magic black box that delivers substantially improved outputs from the same inputs. But the expectation is never framed this way. The expectation is almost always presented in the form of a plausible-sounding objection, either a missing feature or a lack of intuitiveness. This misguided mindset is chronicled through the running parody of the Legal Tech Partner twitter account (@HeadofLegalTech).

One problem is that many of these objections have merit. We really do need, and should demand, better tools. Yet, a deeper and more intractable problem is that such objections are infinite. There will always be something a tool does not do. And the more a tool can do (adding buttons, options, menus, configurations), the less intuitive it becomes—especially when “intuitive” is really shorthand for completely familiar (i.e., exactly the same as now).

When illusory perfection is the standard for adoption, the status quo will reign even when it is universally acknowledged as suboptimal. The status quo is not subject to scrutiny. In fact, the status quo is rarely even subject to comparison. Rather, the continuation of the status quo is dependent on the level of scrutiny applied to its would-be successors—with the bar to entry almost always being orders of magnitude more onerous than “better than the status quo.”

Rob Saccone

There is some received wisdom in this reluctance to weather implementation dips and expend finite change resources on incremental improvements when, ultimately, we need true transformation (Jason’s 10x leverage scenario in Post 277). But this reluctance is almost always grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding of the impact of reducing low-end friction as a means to free up bandwidth, and lay the groundwork, for evolutionary transformation of how we work, and, more importantly, how we think about how we work—i.e., our culture around innovating. Because of this impediment, as Rob Saccone has explored so well, corporate legal remains “on the ground floor of digital services.” Post 248. We have nowhere to go but up.

A culture of innovation is a culture of projects

This is the part of the year-in-review essay where to pivot toward our best assessment of what to do next.

Over the course of our 2600+ legal industry meetings, we are invariably dealing with important people who are busy with truly important work. Not cult-of-busyness busy. Real-world, real-work busy. The refusal to learn or leave Word isn’t stubbornness or stupidity, it is a testament to a system devoid of slack.

Yet no matter how hard people work, there will never be enough hours in the day to do everything that should be, let alone could be, done. That is the fundamental truth we internalized in 2021 both as entrepreneurs running our own business and as advisors to some of the most forward-thinking, mission-driven law departments, law firms, and legal innovation companies in the world: some things will simply not get done.

Tomorrow will be worse in this regard. Overload will only increase as demand continues its unabated upward trajectory and the reactive efforts to scale, while more energetic than ever before, do not keep pace. This gives rise to the troubling conundrum that the only sustainable way to address increasing demand in the future is to sacrifice our ability to meet some demand today, which sounds a lot like not doing our jobs.

Where traditional time management advice is to distinguish between the important and the unimportant, the modern challenge is to execute on that which is truly essential while letting go of that which is merely important (even if it also feels essential). See Flaherty, “Maybe, Don’t Be MacGyver – The Value of Value Storytelling (#1),” 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, Sept 21, 2021 (arguing against extraordinary efforts to fill gaps and instead cultivating a sense of essentialism necessary to forge a better future). For service-oriented professionals, it is difficult to overstate the mental and emotional anguish involved in choosing what not to do. And the resulting drive to get as much done as humanly possible, and then some, is not only unhealthy for the individual but also ultimately counterproductive for organizations and clients.

We propose vitally important people do less immediately important work, which is a close corollary of Ron Friedmann’s maxim of “Do Less Law.”  Furthermore, “Projects” should be at the top of the essential priority list despite projects often having a significant negative impact on every other essential priority.  What, precisely, do we mean by projects?  Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, a renowned expert in project management, offers the following explanation:

Projects involve a series of planned activities designed to generate a deliverable (a product, a service, an event). These activities—which can be anything from a grand strategic initiative to a small program of change—are limited in time. They have a clear start and end; they require an investment, in the form of capital and human resources; and they are designed to create predetermined forms of value, impact, and benefits. Every project has elements that are unique. That’s key: Each contains something that has not been done before.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, “The Project Economy Has Arrived,” Harv Bus Rev (Nov/Dec 2021).  Also listen to “The Future of Work Is Projects—So You’ve Got to Get Them Right,” HBR IdeaCast.

Operations is about running the organization. Projects are about changing the organization. Projects not only come at the expense of resources that could be allocated to operations, but the resulting changes disrupt operations (in order to alter them). Oh, and, currently, the failure rate of projects is 65%.

Real Leadership

Successful projects require consistency and focus. Real leadership therefore entails not only effective sponsorship of individual projects but also ruthless prioritizing among projects. Most projects must be done well to be worth doing at all, and doing them well is excruciatingly resource-intensive—so much so that only a few projects can be meaningfully pursued at a time. The requisite resources include subject matter experts (highly valued in legal) supported by allied professionals with diverse skill sets (particularly scarce in legal).

Successful projects also often require removing these valuable, scarce individuals from day-to-day operations to focus on project work. Yet, as an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review on transformation the journey at the Australian arm of global law firm King & Wood Mallesons noted, “A recent cross-industry survey of more than 300 global leaders conducted by Innosight found that 72% felt that they needed to transform their core offering or business model. The most pressing obstacle to success cited by this group was allocating enough resources to change efforts—an indication that their leadership teams lacked the conviction to take action.” M.A. Siren, Scott D. Anthony, & Utsav Bhatt, “Persuade Your Company to Change Before It’s Too Late,” Harv Bus Rev (Jan/Feb 2022).

The default towards stasis is often stronger than the recognition that transformation is inevitable, eventually giving rise to a paradox with which the HBR article opens:

There’s a paradox facing leaders seeking to transform their organizations as they see their markets begin to change. On one hand, they need convincing data to make the case that transformation is necessary—to show that their companies are about to find themselves on “burning platforms.” On the other hand, by the time public data about disruptive trends and market shifts is convincing, the window of opportunity has shrunk, if not disappeared. And when companies actually are on burning platforms, their leaders confront a harsh reality: Burning platforms inhibit change by increasing rigidity at the very moment when flexibility is crucial. The lesson: Avoid ever ending up on a burning platform. But that requires leaders to act before compelling data is widely available.

When leaders muster sufficient courage and resolve, projects will be the engines of change. Projects require lawyers to spend less time doing legal work and more time doing what is required to deliver legal work differently going forward, from learning existing tools (furthering the adoption phase of existing projects) to helping develop new tools (sponsoring and adding value to new projects).

To be clear, we understand this strikes most people as absolutely daft. Our conclusion violates strong cultural norms, which is precisely the point we have been making throughout: our current culture is not conducive to innovation.

As the foremost authority on strategy, Roger Martin, observes, “The average person in an office thinks that their life is some sort of regular job and that the projects they work on get in the way of doing it. In fact, in organizations, the entire decision factory should be thought of as nothing but projects.” The Project Economy Has Arrived. supra (quoting Martin).

Innovation is not a strategy—it can’t be a strategy if everyone should be doing it. See Post 151 ( parsing the difference between a strategy of innovation and an innovation strategy). But a strategy that does not result in fit-to-purpose innovations is likely ill-suited to the realities of escalating demand. Innovation means projects. And projects mean hard choices and tradeoffs.

We are not recommending doomed efforts to do more with less. Rather, we are suggesting that the imperative becomes to accomplish less with more in the near term while investing finite resources to build the infrastructure necessary to do more with more in the future.

The last word on 2021

“Some things will simply not get done” is the last pronouncement most of us want to hear. So it will stand as the last pronouncement we make about 2021. As for 2022, we wish you success and look forward to continuing our collective cultural evolution towards a more innovative and inclusive legal community.


Editor’s note

The graphic below has appeared in several Legal Evolution posts. See, e.g, Posts 140, 203, 223.  Richard Susskind created the original graphic. Henderson provided the annotations.  The reflections of Flaherty, Borstein, and Stroka suggest that it remains a reliable and useful guide for what lies ahead.