From the February 13, 2023 edition of The American Lawyer. In-house consultant Susan Hackett and legal marketing consultant Deborah Farone offer examples of what happens when the industry focuses on small tweaks, collaboration with colleagues and clients, and adds in a dash of empathy.
A recent Law.com piece, “Rising Client Expectations Escalate Pressures on Law Firms” by Jessie Yount and Hugo Guzman, pointed out that while law firms may be facing tough economic times ahead, in-house counsel’s expectations in the delivery of legal services are increasing.
While the growing sophistication of the general counsel’s office has forced both law departments and law firms to move innovation efforts forward for the last few decades, for the most part, both are struggling to keep pace with new demands regarding technology and innovative ways to deliver legal services.
While some have found ways to provide added value and innovate targeted offerings, those examples are still rare and certainly wouldn’t qualify as transformative or comprehensive changes. But where clients have led the way – for example, via DE&I initiatives and legal operations practices—we can see some light shining through. Such practices are redefining departments and thus, can ignite sparks of creativity and innovation taking place in law firms, even if they are following suit under pressure. So long as the changes stick and can improve practices, work cultures, and results delivered, they are worth pursuing.
What we hope to show in the following profiles are promising tales of emerging successes, offering concrete examples of innovation and creativity that can be leveraged to change how both firms and departments can move in tandem toward better, more innovative relationships and practices. We’re pleased to place the limelight on some legal profession thought-leaders— from academia, research firms and Silicon start-ups—who are changing the game via their bright, creative ideas and services.
Jen Leonard, chief innovation officer and executive director of the Future of the Profession at Penn Carey Law, teaches students and law firms how to apply creativity to deliver legal services. “Business teams are much more open to creative concepts now. They recognize the need to be innovative and come up with a better service delivery model that challenges the way things have been done traditionally.”
Jen believes that innovation does not have to be the creation of the next Tesla; instead, it can come in the form of minor tweaks to a product or system.
She points to an example described in the book Creative Confidence in which an industrial designer working for GE saw that children were afraid before and during MRI exams. Applying empathy and seeing the situation from a child’s perspective, the machine was a big scary hole that made loud noises in a dark room. It was easy to see why children would be scared and would often squirm once in the machine, causing the technician to create multiple images and take more time with the child in the machine. The designer found an answer. Make the machines for children more friendly by adding fun to the experience. Pipe music into the room, paint colorful murals on the walls and place decals on the machine. Instead of entering a frightening-looking operatory, the child might be given a pirate’s hat and brought into a room decorated like a harbor with an MRI machine that looked like a ship. The level of the child’s anxiety was reduced, along with the squirming in the machine. The result: less time imaging, lower cost to the healthcare system, and an overall better experience for all involved. All of this took place with some minor low-tech modifications, rather than the total reinvention of the MRI machine.
Jen has taken this and many other examples to demonstrate to lawyers what happens when they apply empathy and problem-solving from a different perspective. Through her work at Penn and in her own business, Creative Lawyers, Jen has been teaching the process of design thinking to groups of legal professionals and aspiring lawyers. An example of a firm project that has partnered with Jen to infuse innovation into its core programming is Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ novel Weil Legal Innovators Program, which exposes aspiring students accepted to top law schools to the challenges facing public interest organizations. In this program, students defer their first year of law school to work directly on legal and non-legal roles at a partner nonprofit organization, such as Earthwatch Institute, the National Women’s Law Center, and the National Urban League. Through programs like the one she designed for this initiative, Jen helps firms create a judgement-free space to come together, discuss problems, ideate new ideas for tackling them and refine possible solutions.
Not only do the participants develop new ideas, but the groups increase their trust in one another. Similarly, Jen worked with McKinsey’s Legal Department to embed workshops on creativity and ideation sessions for individual lawyer teams across the globe competing during its inaugural Legal Innovation Competition.
Jen has seen that design thinking can help lawyers through all stages of their careers, even those graduating from law school as they enter law firms. “They’ve already read about the challenges they will face once they pass the bar, and now we are giving them tools and techniques to use as they face adversity,” says Jen. “Because of its iterative nature, part of the design thinking process is responding in new ways to different outcomes so that we encounter a problem, we have a way of dealing with it rather than letting it fester. I’ve seen firsthand how students respond more enthusiastically to actively trying to tackle problems than when we simply raise awareness of the problems but don’t engage them in developing solutions.”
Jen has also learned how to craft innovation tournaments, based on a book by the same name written by two Wharton professors. “The framework surfaces many raw, untested ideas in an organization for solving a specific problem from individuals who might have been wary of collaborating or skeptical of their capacity for creativity.
Individuals pitch their ideas, which are then filtered through various rounds of peer voting to generate the most promising ones. In the end, you get some great ideas that could lead to breakthrough innovation while removing the identity of the original proponent, creating a sense of community innovation. These various frameworks—innovation tournaments, design thinking, and others—create solid structures within which innovation and creativity can take shape.”
A Modern-Day, Collaborative Approach to CLE
Andrew Dick, a former practicing lawyer and the founder of Bay area legal tech startup Luminate, is retooling an old construct—online CLE—as a bridge for bringing law firms closer to their clients. Through combining creativity, tech experience and empathy, he is working closely with a large team of GCs to come up with the perfect solution for law firms and their clients.
Andrew recently launched a streaming CLE learning platform, Luminate+. By bringing together leading general counsel from companies such as Google, Verizon, Coca-Cola and Prudential, he has lined up a stellar group of industry insiders who can offer the insights that corporate legal departments want to see engrained in their training programs. The expertly curated content focuses on everything from leadership to legal operations to diversity.
“We’ve endeavored to reimagine every part of on-demand CLE learning. From the topics and speakers to the production value and user experience. Our mission is to create engaging, valuable content that lawyers would readily consume even if there was no CLE requirement. It needs to be that compelling.”
For years, law firm lawyers and their marketing professionals have received requests from clients to provide them with ongoing training. One of the questions on just about any RFP sent to a law firm is, “What value-added learning resources can you provide to us?” Another form of the question we often see is, “Can you provide our legal department with CLE and other training?” Luminate+ may be the answer to part of that question by enabling law firms to provide their clients with well produced, relevant CLE content on a tech forward platform that can be customized to include law firm branding and messaging.
Jose Ramon Gonzalez, chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Equitable Holdings, explains why the program is so valuable. “Luminate delivers a compelling platform for in-house leaders to have meaningful conversations about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
By creating relevant and enjoyable content that clients are asking for, and enabling law firms to be the ones who actually provide it to the clients, Luminate+ offers law firms a new and innovative bridge to engage with their clients and drive outside-the-box value.
Going Beyond Collaboration
Getting groups to trust one another and collaborate is the theme of Dr. Heidi Gardner’s work. In 2017, she authored the seminal business book “Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos.” Since then, through her company, Gardner & Co, Heidi has worked with hundreds of law firms to improve their chances of collaboration. Her new book with Ivan Matviak, “Smarter Collaboration: A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and Transforming Work,” reports on the authors’ latest research and how firms can apply these findings.
Heidi has recognized the change in law and other professional services. “In my work, I see that partners and associates are no longer asking why there is a need to collaborate. They are asking how. ‘How do we do this better, more frequently, more consistently, and how do we take some of the hard steps to make sure this is part of our culture?’”
Just a few years ago, Heidi and her team were hearing skepticism from law firm partners regarding a discussion of change. There were newly appointed partners who still believed the way to develop business and get work done was to keep their heads down and keep to themselves. Now those same partners understand that how they achieve those objectives is just as important as the accomplishment itself.
“Based on clients we’ve worked with in 2017 and again in 2022, we can document empirically that the improvements they’ve made in cross-practice collaboration resulted in significantly higher revenues and a more strategic client portfolio,” Heidi reports.
Collaboration is also taking place between outside counsel and their in-house counterparts. Heidi reports that general counsel are increasingly interested in strategically engaging with their law firms. They expect their providers are not merely responsive but rather have a deep grasp of the business and industry dynamics—and use that knowledge to shape legal advice in a more meaningful, forward-looking way.
When asked how firms can promote smarter collaboration, Heidi points to the need to use data-based, rigorous methods to understand barriers at the practice group, sector and individual levels. In early 2023, Gardner & Co’s research team will publish a toolkit that outlines this approach in a step-by-step way so that firms can undertake their own objective diagnosis. In 2020, a psychometric tool Heidi developed, the Smart Collaboration Accelerator, allows people to understand their typical ways of behaving and how those patterns make someone a stronger collaboration or could inadvertently block collaboration. “It is a scientific, fact-based tool that generates both deep self-reflection and practical advice that’s an easy win.”
Each of these innovators—Jennifer Leonard, Andrew Dick and Heidi Gardner—offer a unique perspective, and yet there is a common theme. By creating firms that are more innovative, where the focus is collaborating to fulfill client needs and developing and offering new solutions, we will be able to grow as a profession.