Innovation in Legal Efficiency – is People, Product, Process the answer?
This week Halebury’s co-founder Denise Nurse spoke at the PLC’s Law Firm Leadership Forum on ‘What is innovation in legal efficiency?’. Law firm and legal efficiency: 10 years ago this seemed like an unlikely phrase, but it is all the rave now. So what does it mean or at least what should it mean?
On US business show The Profit, Marcus Lemonis will tell you efficiency and effectiveness in business is all about “People, Product and Process”. Law firms, like all businesses should take note of this three step approach and at each level we should be thinking about efficiency and innovation.
Let’s start with People. First and foremost a law firm’s asset is its people, but this is also where it has its biggest issue. More and more senior lawyers are leaving law firms, some jumping to in-house teams others to the commercial world and in some cases just stepping out of the work place altogether. This means highly educated, intelligent, loyal, determined and ambitious individuals are leaving law firms which is a shame and inefficient. . Law firm have spent many years training, branding and integrating the lawyer into your team and client base and then they leave, not to a competitor but for something else. At some point you have to analyse why.
The structure of law firms was created decades ago, and many moons before mobile phones, PCs or even the internet hit out lives. What we want from our lives and actually what we need from our working lives has also changed drastically.
When it comes to innovation and people, law firms should start thinking outside the box in terms of what lawyers need to make “working in a law firm” “work for their lives”. Law firms should analyse what lawyers and, in particular, senior lawyers are looking for and then create a structure, not just an incentive structure but a corporate structure that will enable the biggest asset within a law firm, its people, not only stay for the longer term, but also stay incentivised.
The next step is Product. The product appears easy. Law firms have the pick of the crop. There are thousands of law students looking for training contracts and also contracts upon qualification. They are smart, driven and hard-working. But is that what clients want from their lawyer? Clients are looking for greater commerciality from their lawyers – more answers and solutions to questions and issues. That is not easy. It means that lawyers have to understand business better and in particular their client’s product and operating environment. That is also not easy.
Law firms need to help their lawyers improve the product and to do that they need to innovate. Whether it is via secondments (junior or senior end); ensuring lawyers continue their training via a sandwich course so that the lawyers spend time in industry; or whether they get more hands-on experience by becoming mentors. Law firms need to give their people time to improve their product.
Finally, Process. Technology has taken over a great deal of the process within the legal market. This is not a small move. Legal IT providers have been slow to provide effective solutions and especially at an effective price. This is changing and there have been a lot of strides in technology. When Halebury set up seven years ago using a cloud platform or using an outsourced IT solution was just rare. Today it is the norm. The legal IT supplier community is now less traditional and they have started to adopt the approach from other sectors, especially at the bulk or lower end of the market where there have been effective solutions for due diligence reviewing technology and data management. There have also been a number of IT solutions that assist with billing and financial analysis. This all assists with the process but we still need to work on the process of information flow and risk management. Again – an area where law firms need to think creatively.
We as an industry need innovation, but to be effective we need to listen to client and lawyers and then work through the strategy and focus on People, Product and Process, but be innovative at each level.
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