A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Innovate – learning to fail fast is the key to leveraging disruption in the legal profession

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Neil Shewan, Managing Director, Adelphi Digital


As a lawyer, you must get things right – the first time. Fail, and your career can be on the line. De-programming this thinking is critical for modern legal firms to navigate the disruption that is happening in service delivery. Legal firms are being challenged by changing business models, expectations of the millennial legal workforce, changing client service buying habits, and new technologies like block-chain and machine learning.

Innovation is about failing again and again (quickly) until you find a way to make it work. At most legal firms’ failure doesn’t go down very well. Failure is met with poor performance reviews, frowns, grumbles, and sometimes even job loss. Yet this is what we know from many scientific studies that have looked at how to create a culture for innovation: Encouraging risk taking (and therefore being comfortable with failure) is one of the top five most important cultural factors that needs to be present if you want to be a highly innovative organisation.

When I ran a workshop recently with a successful Melbourne legal firm it was critical to remove the fear of failure before their innovation team could hope to start experimenting with change, and learning from the outcomes.

At the workshop I was asked by one of the senior managers how “accountability” fits with the need to take risks. I am not a huge fan of the word accountability as it has negative connotations. I prefer the word “responsibility” - much more empowering. And from an innovation perspective, it is far more responsible to fail quickly and cheaply than to waste hundreds and thousands of dollars and months writing business cases that stack up on paper (have you ever seen one that doesn't?) but go on to produce a mammoth failure.

So, how do you put in place the foundations for innovation?

1. Accept that failure is mandatory if you want to be serious about innovation. No successful innovation in this world got there without having a bunch of failures along the road to success. I suggest you start with the Lean Start-up Methodology. The method is to create quick and low cost prototypes of your ideas that you can quickly learn from. If they fail, you adjust course and roll the learnings into the next iteration of the idea.

2. Get client/user input early. Once you have a prototype for an idea, bring in your clients and talk them through it. Get feedback on what works and what can be improved. Learn from it. Don’t feel like you need a fully featured “thing” at the outset. The first version of your next service/product/process should be just enough to get the idea across (we call it a “Minimal Viable Product” – MVP). The MVP should be low cost to produce, so that you can start over if you need to change direction.

3. Be ready to clear the way for your innovation team. The innovation team in your practice is likely to face a lot of roadblocks from the broader organisation. There will be resistance to change, people feeling threatened about their jobs and those happy to give you 99 reasons why it will fail or to tell you “we have done that before and it didn’t work”. Often businesses create a “skunk-works” where their team has space to experiment and learn, sheltered from legacy thinking within the business.

Editor's Note


Want to know more about how to develop a culture of innovation in your legal practice? Neil is presenting a Pre-Summit Workshop, "Building an Innovation Framework in Law Firms" on Wednesday 13 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. This highly interactive workshop will help you explore and develop the skills you need to lead innovation in your practice. You do not have to be attending ALPMA Summit 2017 to attend this workshop. The workshop costs $395 for ALPMA members or $495 for eligible non-members. Places for these workshops are strictly limited so register now!  We would also like to welcome our Pre ALPMA Summit Workshop Partner GlobalX.


About our Guest Blogger


Neil ShewanNeil Shewan is the Managing Director of Adelphi Digital’s Melbourne office. Adelphi has won over 80 industry awards in the area of digital business consultancy. Neil is head of user experience globally, working with a broad range of clients to innovate their business. Neil’s twenty years of background in customer and user experience, along with service design thinking – allows him to bring design, technology and business strategy together to create future ready businesses. Current and past clients include Sladen Legal, Victorian Government (Including the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation), BHP Billiton, General Motors Holden and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Neil works closely with businesses to identify and implement innovations that will not only help them survive the change around them – but more importantly provide true competitive advantage so they can thrive.




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