legal IT, Professional Services | 10 October, 2019

What does legal innovation really mean?

The phrase “legal innovation” has become a bit of a buzzword amongst law firms. And there’s a good reason for it. An SRA Survey found that 40% of firms had already put in place procedures to support innovation, and 80% were open to new ideas to facilitate it.

Nonetheless, there’s still a fair amount of ambiguity and confusion surrounding it. So, before jumping on the bandwagon, you should be clear on what innovation means, and how it can bring positive change to both your firm and your clients.


A definition of innovation for the legal sector

“Innovation” is defined as - (the use of) a new idea or method.

In isolation, this can be vague and at risk of becoming meaningless. It’s not about introducing a new idea for the sake of it. Rather, it’s about introducing a change that is new to you and that drives value for your customers.

In short, if it’s a new idea to your firm and it’s valuable to your customers – it’s innovation.

It’s not just about technology either. The key to innovating in the legal sector is to adopt a strategy of changing working practices and processes for the better, not just the technology you use.

By doing so, your firm might look to deliver the following improvements:

-        Increased efficiency – saving time on repetitive tasks and streamlining processes, such as billing, via automation.

-        Higher client satisfaction – reducing costs, delivering better value and enhancing access to justice.

-        Better collaboration – improving communication internally, with clients and externally with 3rd parties.

Even with an established definition of legal innovation, it can still be difficult to understand what this looks like in practice for your law firm.


Technology ≠ Innovation

Innovation is as much about people as it is technology, yet the two are often used interchangeably. Tech is certainly playing a part, but it’s just that, a piece in the jigsaw rather than the solution itself.

The management of change and continuous improvement in a business is a huge factor, and ultimately, one which boils down to people. In order to innovate, your firm must first foster a cultural shift that allows it.

Positive change must be driven from the top. If leaders aren’t able to recognise the benefits legal innovation can bring, nor create an environment in which it is promoted, it’s unlikely to happen.

What can leaders do to facilitate innovation?

1. Define Innovation

A common definition and understanding of what legal innovation means for your firm is the starting point. As discussed earlier, this means outcomes, not just new ideas.

2. Culture and Behaviour

Everyone must feel comfortable in their ability to innovate and improve. If the fear of being blamed for failure is too great, people are more likely to comply with existing norms.

3. Communication

Open and honest dialogue between all stakeholders is essential to explore ideas, challenge assumptions and gather different perspectives.

A cultural shift will increase the chances of positive change through innovation – but the barriers to innovation can also have more to do with people than technology.

Barriers to legal innovation

1. Knowledge Gap

Implementing improved processes requires investment in people, not just technology. Staff training for new skill sets, brought about through changes to the way the firm operates, is essential for innovation programmes to be successful.

2. Resources and Time

48% of legal professionals see this as the biggest challenge. Innovation requires the creation of dedicated teams, outside from, but influenced by, the general running of the firm. Without dedicated resources, teams are naturally drawn to day-job, deprioritising the role of innovation in the process.

3. Resistance to Change

“This is the way we’ve always done it.” “We tried this before and it didn’t work.” These are problems common to innovation and change management in general, not just legal.

Your people are integral to creating and implementing innovation in your firm. Now it’s time to look at the other piece of the puzzle – technology.


Technology’s role in legal innovation

While technology does not equal innovation, it most certainly plays a role in enabling it.

This can mean reducing your costs, offering better value to your clients, and improving the day-to-day work processes of your staff.

Here are some examples of how tech is helping to drive legal innovation:

Cloud – often a starting point for innovation and modern business practices. The cloud enables flexibility through remote working and a collaborative approach. In turn, this can increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction - which will ultimately have a positive impact on the value delivered to your clients. 

AI – by monitoring data left in systems regarding meetings, phone calls and document work, artificial intelligence can automate billing processes. Compared to the lengthy process of drawing up invoices manually, this drastically increases efficiency.

Data Use – analysis of data can provide you with insight on average timings and work required for specific tasks. This then informs workflows, allocation of resources and pricing offered to clients.

Internal Management Systems – increasingly case and practice management systems are being embraced by lawyers, as they have become more of a facilitator to their work than a hindrance. Access to data and reports on performance can give Practice Managers a live picture on demand.



Legal innovation is a prominent feature of the legal industry and the increasing disruption to traditional processes means it’s no longer business as usual.

Defining what the phrase means to your firm has to be the first step in formulating your strategy for improvement. With an open and introspective approach, led from the top, you should be able to identify areas of weakness and potential innovation.

With the right approach towards cultural shifts and identification of the appropriate technology, your decisions can positively shape the future of your firm.

If improving your firm through Innovation is something you’re interested in, then why not join our upcoming “Kick-starting Innovation” event, in conjunction with Newcastle Upon Tyne Law Society.

We’ll be joined by expert speakers from the world of legal innovation to share their experiences and practical tips on how you can get started. Whether that's a small change to processes or a business-wide transformation programme, register now to get started.

Posted by Matthew Newton

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