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Lawyers Can Be Innovators

We lawyers are trained to follow precedent, not set it. So it comes as no surprise, really, that most law firms shy from innovation. But even that precedent may be breaking, as Merrilyn Astin Tarlton reports in this article, Law Firm Mavericks Go For Broke: Traditional Thinkers Need Not Apply (ABA Law Practice magazine, 1/07). Tarlton's article focuses on four law firms that are reinventing the practice of law through delivering corporate services in unconventional ways, offering flat fees and other value billing models, eliminating vestiges of traditional law practice like a partner-associate structure.

Greatest American Lawyer (who is himself committed to changing the practice of law) praises these brave, new mavericks of the profession. GAL believes that technology has, in large part, enabled many of today's innovations. Ernie the Attorney comments on the article as well; he believes that innovation will move slowly, but takes comfort that "there is a growing crop of lawyers who want to innovate. And, not surprisingly, they're finding clients receptive to their
novel approach."

Bruce MacEwen, who typically covers a Biglaw beat, emphasizes that large firms must innovate to deal with more sophisticated clients, demands of associates for a greater work-life balance and a growing global market. He writes:

The pressures on our profession, and our industry (for it is indeed both), to innovate have never been greater. Increasingly, "the way it's always been done" is not a satisfactory strategy or approach. We have had distant early warnings of this for well over a decade, and if you doubt that — or even if you don't — I invite you to read The New York Times' coverage of Lord, Day, & Lord's closing its doors in 1994 (with the pithy headline/diagnosis: "Oldest Law Firm is Courtly, Loyal, and Defunct").

The problem is that we've never been much good at innovation. And now we have no choice. 

MacEwen suggests that innovation is a collaborative process within a firm that should be accomplished by trial-and-error and reconfiguration. 

It's only a matter of time before innovators within a large firm give up on trying to change from within and pick up and move on. That was the case with the  Summit Law Group, one of the firms featured in Tarlton's article, which is comprised of large-firm expatriates. As GAL points out, technology is enabling innovation, allowing fewer lawyers to do the job of many. If large firms don't use their innovators, sooner or later, they're going to lose them -- and with that, any hope for reinventing themselves.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 8, 2007 at 07:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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