22 March 2022

Is innovation washing the new ‘greenwashing’ for law firms?

Insights

Most people are aware of the term greenwashing, but for those that haven’t, it is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as ‘behaviours or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is’.

But have you heard of ‘Innovation Washing’? Similar to greenwashing, it refers to an inaccurate portrayal of a focus on innovation, and it may be quite prevalent in the legal industry.

When a law firm declares they have introduced new software or did something new with the intention of portraying themselves as leaders in innovation, but actually the initiatives were a one-off or had no real impact, they are guilty of innovation washing.

There is immense pressure for law firms to be seen as ‘innovative’ and ‘forward-thinking’ which may lead to the investment in and implementation of software or systems with little or no practical benefit to the firm, or their clients. Adding to the competitive tension, clients are also quite rightfully demanding that their firms demonstrate that they are innovative, putting more pressure on firms.

The problem with innovation washing is that not only can the clients often see through it, but so too can a firm’s employees. In this period of “The Great Resignation” it is more important than ever to have an innovation strategy that is visible, focused on solving problems, and delivers practical outcomes.

So, how do you go about avoiding innovation washing and build an innovation strategy that when implemented will make a difference to the firm and your clients?

We have prepared 6 key steps to get you started:

1. Be clear on what your pain points are

Ask these questions to help identify areas of concern and the underpinning needs. Focus on the pain points at this stage and don’t go straight to the solution – that comes later.

  • What are the current gaps in the existing processes that cause the most friction or downtime?
  • What ideas do you have for making it easier for clients to engage with you?
  • What additional capabilities, services or packages could be offered to clients?
  • What is preventing clients from using your services more frequently or for more projects?
  • What types of activities are taking valuable time away from more profitable projects?
  • How safely and securely is personal and professional information currently being stored?
  • Is all the documentation and communications for each matter accessible to the legal team members that require it?

Group the identified pain points into themes and prioritise these based on potential impact on the firm and clients.

2. Identify possible solutions

Take each of the main themes in turn and explore possible solutions. Consider how a competitor might solve them, how a technology company might solve them, or even how a well-known brand like McDonald’s might solve them. The idea behind this is to open up the mind and consider the problems from different perspectives. For each set of possible solutions, prioritise, so that you end up with a defined set of projects to start exploring.

When considering possible solutions that involve technology, there are usually three strategic options available: build, buy or rent.

Build, is the most ambitious, costly and high risk option and only for the bold.

Buy, involves purchasing software and then investing further time and money on unique customisations.

Rent, is rapidly becoming the most popular and refers to software-as-a-service (SaaS) where you pay for the licences that you need, includes maintenance, and can also be highly configurable and cost-effective.

3. Research, research & research

It is likely that innovation opportunities will involve process and technology, and it is important to clearly understand how could the firm utilise technology to deliver better legal outcomes. The legal tech market has grown notably over the last 5 to 10 years. There are numerous offerings for law firms across law practice management, legal operations, contract management, collaboration workspaces, research tools, client intake, and document automation to name a few.  Make sure to review several companies, taking into consideration how closely they align with your pain points and most importantly, how their solutions can help to positively enhance the client experience and legal outcomes.

4. Be clear on expectations

Whichever platform or system you implement, realise that you only will get out of it what you are willing to put into it. Assign a project manager that will oversee the implementation and provide what assistance is needed to ensure that it meets the firm’s key requirements. Make sure there is an SLA (Service Level Agreement) in place and have clear documentation on the agreed scope of work and any out of scope functionality. Work with the legal technology provider as a team to get the best possible outcome.

5. Implementation & Support

Understand the client onboarding plan for the implementation and what success looks like for you and your clients. Check if provisions for support and training are included in the contract, and what opportunities are available to upgrade to a premium service if additional support is required. Ensure that the software or platform has capability to be readily configured and modified to fit new use cases or simply to iterate over time. A provider should partner with your law firm to ensure you get the most out of the platform or system for years to come.

6. Plan for the future

When analysing the legal tech companies that meet your law firm needs, think about the future. Ask what new projects and integrations they have launched in the last 2 years and what is on their road map for the next 2 years (minimum). Choosing a provider that has the capabilities to grow with your firm will pay dividends in the long run.

Summary

Don’t be caught up in the hype, providing the benefits of innovation to your own lawyers and clients is more important than the perception of being innovative. Leading congruently with the business goals and epitomising the law firm as an authentic brand will attract more customers and employees than innovation washing. Make authentic and informed decisions on legal technology that will not only assist in 2022, but allow for future growth.

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