6 Easy Steps to Seed Innovation in Your Legal Department.

Want to bring some innovation to your legal team? Not sure where to start? Read on…


Plenty has already been written and plenty more remains to be said regarding innovation in legal services; together with increasing pressure for lawyers to emulate their business colleagues and ‘be more innovative’. Remarkable advancements in legal service innovation, driven primarily by technology, are reshaping the industry at an accelerating pace. But as GCs are now constantly challenged to do more with less and find new solutions to old problems (never mind the new problems), we need to ask; “Are there things that we can do ourselves to foster innovation in the legal sector, rather than simply looking in the direction of technologists?”


We believe that the answer is an unqualified ‘yes’. Innovation Officers (if you have one) and technologists do not have a monopoly on innovation (and if they do, that’s a whole other problem). Every single one of us as working lawyers can innovate and if you know where to start looking, the opportunities are not hard to spot. Identifying areas where you can innovate in legal services does not have to be a ‘Eureka’ moment nor a large, ground-breaking project; particularly if you are starting out, making incremental adjustments and improvements can have a significant compounding effect.


We speak to GCs regularly about their approach to innovation and the challenges they encounter. Based on those conversations, here are some practical pointers on how you can accelerate your innovation journey:


6 Steps to Drive Innovation in Your Legal Department 


Focus on your customer and the value you provide.

This should always be front of mind. It is this focus that is the driver of innovation in business teams and the most successful at it have a relentless hunger to find ways to improve the product or service they provide. Innovation in the legal services should be approached with the same attitude. Start with basic questions - the answers to which will enable you to serve your business partners better and create greater value for them. Do they want faster contracting processes? Do business colleagues want to be able to self-serve more often? Do they find interactions with the legal team slow or inconsistent? If you don’t already know the answers to these, you should ask. Find out what else they need from your team and what changes they would like to see.


Examine your existing processes and way of doing things and ask yourself whether there are changes you could make to improve efficiency.

As most legal departments operate as cost centres, this is another way of providing value to the business whilst at the same time improving the experience of the lawyers in your team and enabling them to squeeze out any opportunities to save time. Repetitive or larger volume tasks usually present significant opportunities for greater efficiency so begin by analysing those workstreams and in particular try to identify glitches like duplication of work or blockages. Creating process charts for various tasks can throw up a lot of these opportunity areas.

Look at how things are done outside the legal department. 

Identifying analogous scenarios will often point you towards new ideas; whether through processes or use of existing technology, watching how colleagues adjacent to you with different backgrounds, skillsets and tools tackle challenges can be a very effective approach to ideation.

Create an environment where people are encouraged to innovate.

Promote experimentation and empower your team to offer new ideas and alternative ways of doing things. Different members of the team will often have different perspectives and would have experienced different pain points and challenges. That variety of perspectives is the most likely source of fresh ideas. You should also take a look at how other areas of the business promote innovation amongst their team members.

Pay attention to what other lawyers are doing.

An obvious one but you really can learn a lot by looking at how others in the legal services industry are changing and for the most part, this IP is very much open source. Whilst technology will undoubtedly be a major catalyst, there are many other drivers of change in the legal ecosystem with new service providers and players now shaking things up and offering a raft of different models and ideas that you can emulate or adapt for your own needs.

Bring new talent into your team to stir up innovation.

In some cases, your team might really benefit from fresh faces or the input of non-lawyers, as they can help you to look at things from an “outsider’s perspective” and provide ideas for innovation. This can be as simple as bringing in new or specialised talent, even if just on a temporary basis. There is a world of options now to be able to do this.

One further word of encouragement - whilst we all know that lawyers are trained to be precedent-orientated and focused on risk, this should not hinder lawyers from innovating. Most lawyers are curious, detail-orientated, and enjoy tackling problems - traits that are pre-requisites for innovation. What often holds us back is the mindset to give something new a go without worrying too much about whether it works or not; that is, of course, how all the great inventors and innovators succeed. Innovating really should and can be that simple.


If you've tried anything that has worked for your legal department, we'd love to know!


Rob Shakespeare