Technology alone is not “Innovation”

Canadian Lawyer has published this week a piece entitled “Innovation Is Not Progress,” which takes on the idea that technology in Legal equals progress in our industry. Like any good editorial, it elicited strong reaction from its audience; this includes people in my network, one of whom sent it to me with a simple analysis: “what a bunch of baloney.”

Here’s the key point made by the magazine’s editor, Tim Wilbur:

The faith of this new religion is that innovation is what we should always strive for and the future is full of promise. This belief has been adopted by many people outside of the tech world, including those pushing for change in the legal profession. Lawyers are constantly being told they need to be more innovative, that they are at risk of being disrupted unless they adopt new technologies. Become more tech savvy, we are told, or risk being left behind.

I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Wilbur’s headline that “innovation is not progress”; nor do I agree with his assertion that technology is the only form of innovation out there. This is because the broader view of innovation we at Design Build Legal are championing in our industry is absolutely progress.

But I do think firms should think twice before they jump into new technologies, if not for the reasons Mr. Wilbur suggests. There are lots of great options when your firm is ready. But technology is not a shortcut to innovation. In fact, it can slow the progress of your firm, because the resources you sink into purchasing, maintaining, and evangelizing technology can preclude you from taking other steps – steps that could have a bigger impact in a shorter time period.

I look at it this way: I haven’t been running much lately, for various reasons. Starting a business takes time. We’re fortunate to have a fair bit of client work already. I’m blessed to have two small kids that keep me busy. On those occasions when I do get out on the roads, I’ve been noticing that my old Nike GPS watch is about to fall apart. So I am in the market, and I’ve had my eye on some pretty cool (read: expensive) running watches. “Maybe I should know what my heart rate is” I tell myself. Maybe that fancy watch would get me out there when it’s “too hot” or “too cold” or “too wet” or “I haven’t seen this episode of Paw Patrol.” But, the fact is, I know that’s not true. And it’s the same with law firms and technology. Technology itself will not force innovation inside your firm.

Our approach is to help firms sit down with clients to identify their legal and business needs, and then to create legal solutions that meet those needs. Often, those legal solutions will include contract staffing, process improvement, data collection and analysis … and, yes, technology. But the technology is part of the overall solution, a solution you have developed hand-in-hand with your users. It is NOT technology in a vacuum.

What are your thoughts? How does your firm or department use technology? Do you have a Garmin you’d recommend? I’ll look for you in the comments.

Leveraging large survey datasets with Tableau

I spoke on an LMA Tech West panel about “Innovative New Law Firm Products” in San Francisco on 10/5. Alongside innovators from Fenwick & West and Littler Mendelson, I  showcased a model for using data analytics to turn a ton of regulatory information into visually compelling and easy-to-digest work product.

I use Tableau Software to visualize the results of large survey projects (think 50-state surveys). By mixing the narrative responses (qualitative data) with a simple number rating of 1-5 for the regulatory risk associated with those narratives, I can use Tableau to show a heat map of regulatory risk across the country or around the world. The user can then select states or countries that are shaded red, for high risk, and can drill in to read the relevant narrative describing the risk.

We did this project with a law firm on behalf of their international banking client, so I can’t show you the real thing. But I’ve worked up a quick sample with different data and narrative, to give you an example with which you can actually interact. You can check that out on my Tableau Public site.


Dashboard 2

8 Rules for Innovators

Okay, first off … you got us. There are no hard-and-fast “rules” for innovation. But we get asked all the time by people within firms that want to create an innovation effort but aren’t sure where to start. In our ~16 years within law firms – instilling innovative mindsets, building cross-disciplinary teams, and generally making change – we have some high-level takeaways. They don’t give you a handbook when you start an innovation effort within a firm. This is the stuff we had to learn. Let us give you a head start.