The Buy-In: Legal Innovation as a Firm Strategy
By Samah Rahman

There are certain tried and tested traditions in law which have come to characterize the practice: the late nights in board rooms closing deals; the glossy-eyed hours in document review; the painstaking calculations measuring each word to craft the most erudite factum; the infinite rabbit-hole of research to uncover the most poignant legal loophole, all the while trying to strike the perfect balance of rate to hour ratio that appeases the client and bolsters the firm’s bottom line. And like all traditions, there is a sense of comfort in resorting to these familiar rituals; but the reality is, while times have changed, the practice of law has not. But if it ain’t broke, why innovate? Because clients demand efficiency; and, the competitive business of law demands that firms stay ahead of the tech-curve.

To discuss these ideas, the Canadian Legal Innovation Forum congregated on March 5, 2020, bringing together professionals working at the intersection of law and technology. This year’s forum focused on how to harness legal innovation to respond to the increasing client expectations and competition in the field. The core objectives of the forum were:

  • To provide legal practitioners with context, information and guidance on how to define and evolve their innovation strategies;
  • To encourage collaboration in the legal sector to tackle the toughest challenges it and the businesses they support are facing. And leveraging opportunities linked to these challenges; and,
  • To build a national network of innovators focused on invoking change in the legal sector and aligning with business trends in the Canadian economy.

A running theme that emerged from the eight panel discussions was the idea of top-down resistance towards product-driven or process-driven innovation. Another obstacle identified was the conflict between target billings and the investment in innovation that may undercut billable hours. Finally, the panel identified the lack of time allocated to learning and innovating as another impediment to change.

The solutions proposed by leading innovators in the field, unanimously began with the concept of the buy-in. Talent driven innovation is possible and necessary when an individual or group champions the push to innovate, sells the idea, and induces the buy-in to make innovation a team strategy. It typically goes like this: these internal champions introduce the process or product, create transparent channels to educate and monitor the progress, and the firm sees results, believes in the innovation and adopts it in their practice. There has to be complete buy-in of the innovator mentality by the firm and its people so it can permeate through all levels to create a leaner practice.

Key takeaways from the forum to implement innovation as strategy are:

  • To honestly identify the pain-points in practice, and take a flexible approach in locating vendors who can create solutions;
  • To procure technology that benefits the entire organization at all levels;
  • To ensure vendors are able to customize the technology to cater specifically to the practice;
  • To vet the technology, and then to test the technology beyond demos to ensure suitability of integration within the firm fabric.

Legal innovation is talent driven. The forum affirmed that the onus is on the entire team to identify areas of improvement, but specifically challenged students and new lawyers to apply their fresh eyes to call out the inefficiencies in practice, and canvas the market for solutions. The dialogues to innovate are beginning now – streamlining practice may reduce billable hours, but leaves space to build volume and improve client satisfaction. It is imperative for both the practice and business of law to recognize the traditional models of practice need not be venerated. It’s a new day; and we should implement innovation as a team strategy to revamp the tired practices of law.