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Thursday, February 25th, 2016 technology  research  practice

A Practice Tip

  • Practice

♫ I know that something has changed
Never felt this way
I know it for real
This could be the start
Of something new…♫

Music and lyrics by: Matthew Gerrard, Robbie Nevil, recorded by Vanessa Hudgens.

steve jobs

(Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0)

The American Bar Journal on April 1, 2015 posted an article on “100 Innovations in Law” by Jason Krause.  It is an interesting review (admittedly from an American perspective) of how law has changed over the last 100 years or so. It makes for an intriguing read, but with all due respect to the author, I would list most of the innovations as evolutionary innovation rather than disruptive innovation. I love Twitter, for example, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it has proven to be highly disruptive on the legal profession. Even LegalZoom.com hasn’t really opened up new markets; it may have made more services affordable to more people but at least so far I don’t see it having a hugely disruptive effect on the profession.

Why is innovation so hard in Law? Many factors can be cited here, such as law is a very conservative profession, that lawyers are not risk-takers, that lawyers have been taught to rely on precedent (old lawyer joke:  “The Managing Partner wants the firm to be innovative, to do things differently” to which the Management Committee asks: “Well, who else is doing it?”) and the like. But the true story is that innovation in most professions is difficult.  In fact it may be more difficult in law than other professions due to the structure of law firms.

My friend Jordan Furlong put it this way in an article entitled “Why Lawyers Don’t Innovate“:

So when managing partners ask me, “How can I get my lawyers to change?” I have to respond: You can’t make your lawyers do anything they don’t want to do. They’ll do something only if they decide they want to do it, and they’ll want to do it if encouraged by those they like, respect and trust. In a number of law firms, I’m sorry to report, building a culture of “like, respect and trust” among lawyers can be considerably more difficult than getting lawyers to adopt a new innovation. It requires a level of effort and openness and generosity that many lawyers these days feel they can’t afford. But I’m coming to think it’s the key to successful, long-term, sustainable law firm innovation. And it can be done.

I think that really the Fundamental Attribution Error is at play here.  Wikipedia states:

[T]he fundamental attribution error, also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect, is the tendency for people to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics (personality) to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation rather than considering the situation’s external factors.

In other words, lawyers are reluctant to innovate since the system in which they operate (the modern law firm) does not create a situation of trust that fosters innovation. They behave as they do since that is a rational response to the culture inside law firms.

I have had the great good fortune to be part of a small group tour of Google and Facebook’s campuses in Palo Alto California.  There is no question that innovation is almost palpable in the air at these locations.  They have crafted an environment where innovative thinking is expected and fostered.

If we truly want lawyers and law firms to be innovative, we need to change the culture. We need to know that when we enter an innovative firm, we all know that something has changed, that this could be the start of something new…

-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.

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