Friday, October 12, 2007

Innovation Warning

Let's talk about the technology aspect of "innovation"....

A number of our clients and contacts have been picking our brains lately in relation to the market and media buzz around social networking (see here) - asking what London and US firms are doing in these spaces (our good friend and global thought leader Ruth Ward at Allen & Overy started it all long ago people, so we question it still being considered an "innovation" by the media, but anyway...), and what can and should be achieved for Australian and Asian firms.

Although we are not going to give away the entire farm, we are happy to share some thoughts.

Our first warning on this topic is to make sure you are not jumping on the band wagon just because you think you need to - and particularly that you are not racing forward without a clear and agreed FIRM WIDE strategy that aligns all the possible and achievable benefits of these new('ish) technologies across the internal practice of law, your possible external offerings to your clients, and the utilisation of innovative technologies for branding, recruitment and market "buzz" purposes. We're not saying don't do it - far from it....

Without clear thinking and a documented approach, you run the risk of falling into the "portal" and "deal room" traps of the late 1990's - everyone wanted one, but no-one was sure why or what they were supposed to achieve - only few clients benefited, but the benefit was high for some - however most firms saw this as a solution to push to all clients and users, rather than understanding the requirements and values.

Without a strategy and some thinking before you start, you run the very real risk of having each department (such as Marketing or Knowledge Management) getting excited after a conference or news items and then running in separate directions (with best intentions) without talking to each other (or the wider firm) about a single approach and the wider goal/s.

There is also the risk that without thought, your clients and lawyers will be side-stepped in this process, and that your support departments will (again with best intentions) simply create a blog, wiki, or social networking presence because you can (or because other peer firms have). These will undoubtedly have a short life and/or the benefits will not be realised - and with multiple and unplanned efforts, your brand is at risk. One other potential result is that you may easily waste an opportunity to discovery a true use for this technology which may indeed return tangible value to lawyers and clients (remember these people?).

So in short - stop...don't rush....and create a plan first (we know it sounds boring) that aligns what your Marketing, Knowledge Management, IT, HR, partners and clients think they want to try.

So why involve all these departments, and why working toegther?

Well think about it - each have their own reasons to explore the possibilities - for example, HR may want to address the summer clerks, alumni and graduate recruitment processes and utilise some "buzz" and "market spin" via tools such as Facebook (see Linklaters LPC Class of '07 and Clifford Chance's Feb 2008 Trainees page as examples). Although not a law firm, check out what the Eclipse Group (part of Deloitte Australia) have on their recruitment site - play the video.

Marketing may want to be involved as they have been at Sheppard Mullin (see their use of blogs as a replacement for client newsletters here They may also see the value for providing internal tools for their teams where wikis are used internally to capture and collaborate on new and emerging industry and market analysis tasks.

Good old Knowledge Management (where a majority of these technologies were first utilsied within professional service environments) should be looking to utilise these technologies for a variety of both internal working practices and external client value-add reasons (see the Allen & Overy link above and also the way in which Linklaters still continues to innovate with BlueFlag after all this time - even though this is not necessarily bundled in the Web2.0 technologies - and their Linkpedia). Many more examples like these exist - see Pinsent Masons innovations (again not necessarily Web2.0, but evidence of what can be achieved when all the support departments, fee earners, and clients work together to find ways to innovate).

KM have uncovered a plethora of internal working practices that these technologies can be tested on - however it is the type of law and the behaviour of users which will dictate success. Do not be under the illusion that one solution will be a firm-wide success. What a tax lawyer will want and use will be very different to what a real estate lawyer will want and use. The possibilities multiply the more geographically disperse and large the firm.

We hate to go on about this - but rather than allowing each internal department to gain an individual benefit, again think about the benefits of these support teams working together with the lawyers and (yes) clients on these offerings during the planning and design phases so as to achieve a higher potential for overall success, and also - to ensure that from a branding and a "mojo" perspective, the design, the approach, the look & feel, the potential for market buzz, the branding etc for the firm's approach to innovation is consistent and clearly defined/identifiable.
We would have to say that from an external perspective that Linklaters is by far and away ahead of the pack in relation to a single branding and firm wide approach to adoption of "outside world" facing technologies - this is demonstrated simply by the example of their global web strategy and the simple and cheap wins created by the use of consistently branded sub-sites for specific and tangible Marketing and HR purposes. This also shows that cutting edge technologies are not necessarily required to show innovation.

By the way - if we took an approach which said that actually Web2.0 and related technologies are no longer "innovative" because it these are no longer new (that is not to say that you can't benefit still from being a current adopter), we would need to look at the "what next" scenario. Now we are certainly NOT giving away the farm here; however a quick tip would be to have your lawyers gaze at the stars for a while, and ask your clients as well - ask them where there are efficiencies to be gained, products and services to be provided to clients, markets to be tapped (hello China). Also listen carefully to the core information providers and the courts. This approach will give you an answer far faster if you focus also on goal directed analysis, rather than finding solutions first that are awaiting problems.

So who do we rate as leaders in this particular field (i.e. the user of wikis, blogs, social networking, etc)? Well that is easy - we've been fortunate to work with, drink with, scribble with, and spend time around some of the best, and their thought leadership and early adoption has contributed to our thinking in this space. They clearly led the way as innovators, and we are all learning from them now - our ideas are simply taken from the lessons these leaders learnt.

In London we would say that a conversation with our friends Ruth Ward, Marc-Henri Chamay and the team at Allen & Overy, Australian ex-pats such as Matthew Parsons and Katja Ullrich at Linklaters, Stuart Barr at Headshift, another Australian ex-pat David Fitch at Simmons & Simmons, and Sam Dimond at Clifford Chance is essential - as is a glass of wine with the ever youthful Melanie Farquharson (ex-Simmons & Simmons, now Director at 3Kites) is also a must.

It is not surprising that those who have found success and realised a benefit from innovation utilising technology also happen to be those who clearly understand lawyer behaviours, the differences between practice areas and areas of law, and who have indeed been embedded within the practice group floors. Does that tell you something?
When considering the Australian market, the Lovely Chrissy Burns at Blake Dawson Waldron and Gerard Neiditsch at Mallesons are the two clear leaders in our opinion.

The core message to take from the above is to gently pause, thoughtfully plan, recognise that a collective strategy and approach across all the areas that could be impacted or enhanced via this technology is essential, and finally - look for something new, as that is true innovation as well as playing your part in keeping up with the Jones'.

No comments: