Creativity "undervalued" in law firms, research shows

By Tom Lodewyke, Lawyers Weekly

Australian law firms need a stronger focus on fostering creative thinking to compete in the 21st century legal profession, according to recent research.
Creativity is undervalued in Australian law firms when compared with other 21st century skills, research from the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and InfoTrack has shown.

The organisations recently released the preliminary results of their ALPMA/InfoTrack 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firms study.

The research focused on the value that Australian and New Zealand law firms place on the key 21st century learning skills, as defined by learning organisation P21: creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

Of these “four Cs”, only 40 per cent of respondents said they valued creativity. Meanwhile 76 per cent said they valued communication, 66 per cent collaboration and 59 per cent critical thinking.

“Creativity is often undervalued in law firms,” said ALPMA president Andrew Barnes.

“By not fostering creative thinking, firms are missing the opportunity to tap into the minds of their own people, many of whom have unexplored potential.”

One hundred and fourteen law firms participated in the survey, of which 85 per cent were Australian.

InfoTrack CEO John Ahern said that while many law firms are aware of the importance of innovation, some fail to see the value of fostering creativity.

“The reality is that creativity drives innovation,” Mr Ahern said.

“Firms are aware of this, as evidenced by the greatest benefit measure to the business being innovation, however many still see no benefit to investing in creativity.

“Without innovation, firms can’t prosper in our new normal. It’s innovation that drives productivity, growth and sets you apart in the marketplace, so it’s disappointing to learn that creativity is still not seen as a critical investment.”

The most common method of fostering creative thinking, used by 86 per cent of respondents, was asking for staff suggestions. Twenty-one per cent of these said this was a highly effective strategy, while 43 per cent said it was mostly effective.

Sixty-nine per cent of firms surveyed said they ran innovation workshops, with 17 per cent saying this was highly effective.

Fifty-nine per cent said they created specific roles or teams to focus on innovation, which reflected the trend of firms appointing heads of innovation. This strategy had the best ‘highly effective’ rating at 26 per cent, while 37 per cent said it was mostly effective.

The study also revealed that few firms were investing in technology to support creativity. Thirty-three per cent of respondents said they used no technology to enhance or enable creativity.

Eighteen per cent said they used data analysis, while 15 per cent said they used software development technology.

Mr Barnes encouraged law firms to lean on innovation experts to help develop their own strategies.

“Firms ought not be fearful of encouraging creative thinking – it is blue sky, not black hole,” he said.

“Indeed, there are some fantastic experts in this space who can hand-hold firms through the tentative first few steps towards an innovation framework.”

Herbert Smith Freehills COO Nicole Bamforth has told Lawyers Weekly earlier this year that the firm uses idea management tool, The Vision Lab, to foster creativity.

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