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Legal innovation starts with the lawyers: breaking the barriers to innovation!

The predominant message that has been repeated during the amazing European LegalTech Congress - organized by ELTA in Madrid on November 20 to 22, 2019 - is that there are 3 P steps to Legal Innovation:

  • People,

  • Process, and then finally

  • Platform (i.e. technology).

But let’s focus on the PEOPLE, which means the lawyers (i.e., lawyers working in law firms but also in-house lawyers, etc.), because the innovation is not only about technology. The technology is the “icing on the cake”. The PEOPLE aspect is essential, especially since innovation is made by humans and for humans (for the moment!).

The legal professions are under the mandate or the urge of innovation. Chantal Vermeire (Wolters Kluwer), Juan Pujol (Groupe Lefebvre Sarrut), and Sebastian Hartmann (KPMG), in a panel about the future of the legal profession, agreed that the future is already here and LegalTech or any other Legal Innovation is not a temporary trend.

The 300 participants to the Congress embodied the overall Legal ecosystem - Lawyers, Corporate lawyers, LegalTech vendors, students, Education institutions, regulators or policymakers - and without any doubt embrace and are involved in a way or another in legal innovation. But it’s not true for all the legal profession, despite the fact that the market for legal services is changing in more ways than ever. Markus M. Schmit, Managing Director of ECLA (European Company Lawyers Association) mentioned that nowadays, around 7% of Corporate Legal Departments have a position in charge of implementing LegalTech for their in-house legal teams.

Most still perceive lawyers as averse to innovation and technology. Let’s stop proclaiming that because this is a myth said the CEO of the Lefebvre Group, José Ángel Sandin! The survey they conducted showed that 75% of the lawyers feel the need to innovate and 23% have already allocated money for that purpose.

Lawyers love technology without knowing it. Who would have said 15 years ago that all lawyers would rely on a smartphone for their professional lives? What they may seem quite reluctant about is Legal innovation, although they might have to embrace it sooner than later.

What are the Barriers to innovation?

  • The first obstacle seems to be the Lawyers themselves and their behavioral psychology! Veronika Voinovian, the founder of The AnthropoLawGist, reminded that “Managing Lawyers is like herding cats”. According to research, Lawyers possess some common personality traits that make them less likely to try new things but makes good for lawyering! Lawyers score high in skepticism, sense of urgency (Impatience!) and autonomy (most work in siloes!) and low on resilience (sensitive to criticism) and openness or sociability! In addition, lawyers' job primarily is to ensure compliance and minimize risk. Innovation implies taking risks. Orsolya Görgényi - former chair of the AIJA (International Association of young lawyers) shared that according to a survey conducted in 2018, - in collaboration with the Council of Bars & Law society - the young lawyers still picture the lawyers as a threat to legal innovation! This is the same for the partnership traditional structure of the vast majority of the law Firms. Lawyers usually work in siloes, under the same roof (brand) and innovation needs team and collaborative work and the positive outcomes of innovation may take quite some time before it pays off. Those are not a proper environment in which lawyers have time and thinking space to innovation!

  • But there are also cultural obstacles. The Legal profession is characterized by convention and tradition. This is especially valid for law firms. The billable hours do not encourage the lawyers to invest whatever needed time to work on innovation, remarked Caroline Hill. Zohar Fischer, the founder of Robius, underlined that nowadays the choice between making less money - in the short term - because of the billable hours' system, does not assemble lawyers around what is needed for innovating. Corporate Legal Department may be more prepared to innovation, remarked Markus M. Schmit, since during the last ten years they have undergone an unprecedented disruption due to several requirements. Still, the main ones are being more cost-effective, more complex compliance due to the globalization, and changing talent models and needs. Technology - meaning automation, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence - is shaping the legal departments of the future.

  • Obstacles from the Technology itself. Technology and innovation can be an overwhelming and costly affair. That’s the reason that larger firms are being the leaders in innovation, and smaller firms seem to be intimidated and highly scared. They don’t have the necessary resources nor the necessary teams. In addition to deciding which technology is the correct one, they are not comfortable with the user experience of technological solutions.

What are the steps for lawyers to become more innovative?

The general message was that, as a starter, lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of change and embrace innovation because there is a future for lawyers in the future reminded Jorge J. Vega Iracelay, researcher and professor.

Start working on themselves and shift their mindset and learn new Skill Set.

Lawyers from law firms, corporate legal departments, government, and regulators, should develop future-ready mindsets and skills. Start adopting a client-centric mindset to improve the user experience of their clients.

Lawyers are trained professionals and continuous education is a requirement for any legal practitioner to keep up to date and keep a high level of professional competence. To embrace creativity and innovation they should open-up to new skills beyond the legal ones (and the technological), such as project management, or Legal Design Thinking. Among those new skills are Soft Skills.

How can they be "taught"? Beyond schools and universities, companies and firms play a major role in teaching these new skills and fostering creativity. Learning these new skills requires time. Veronika Voinovian suggested starting using the called Liberating structures developed and described by Henri Lipmanowicz.

Orsolya Görgényi summarized this in “The technical legal skills will let you get to the party. The soft skills will let you dance at the party, but the social skills will make everyone want to dance with you”.

  • Change the work structures with multidisciplinary teams. Allow Lawyers to create new models and give them an environment in which they can thrive, giving them the time.

  • Allow the lawyers and their co-workers to fail. That’s a major shift in the behavioral traditional position of the lawyers.

The need to innovate is according to Juan Pujol (Lefebvre Group) like a tsunami: “it arrives silently at first and only makes a lot of noise once it hits the shore”. The future is bright for

Lawyers as long as they are ready to innovate.


About the Author

Caroline Chetrit is the Managing Director of CONSULEGIS, an international network of law firms and advisory professionals, with 85 members across the 5 continents. She is also an expert in business strategy and innovation with over 15 years of experience holding a range of positions with companies across numerous industries and markets in Europe and in the US and Israel. She has a pioneer innovation creating one of the first Spanish marketplaces in 1998. For the first half of Caroline’s career she has worked as a lawyer, (admitted in Paris & Madrid) specialized in corporate (mainly M&As) and banking law with big law firms such as Gómez-Acebo & Pombo or Cleary Gottlieb & Hamilton.

#CarolineChetrit #NeedtoRead

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