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The Heart of Legal Innovation: Why Culture and Leadership Matter Most

By Charlotte Smith.

We know the legal industry is experiencing rapid transformation. Visionaries like Richard Susskind have long hinted at the future we're now stepping into. As teams harness technology and refine their operations, the face of law is changing dramatically. This transformation isn't without its challenges. Traditional norms, from in-house teams to private practices, are being tested. 

Implementations can bring team dynamics to the surface, ranging from frustration to burnout and fear. Without proper preventative measures, these dynamics can lead to failed adoption of tools, conflict over scoping of roles, and a breakdown in group communications. 

As we weave technology and AI into our workflows, there’s no doubt we are reshaping the very foundation of the legal world. The future promises a horizon where law firms and in-house teams operate with data-driven precision, and streamlined efficiency. It is the middle of conference season, the hype topic, AI. Amidst the bustling conferences and tech showcases, where focus is on technology and innovation the Heart of Legal Innovation lies not in new tools or processes, but in the fabric of organizational culture and effective leadership. A thriving culture, growth mindsets and inspiring leadership are foundational in steering this transformation.

From Legal to a Transformation Catalyst

Looking back, I didn’t set out to work at the intersection of law, people and technology. I don’t neatly fit into the legal tech/ legal ops mold, I am deeply passionate about bringing fresh perspectives to the legal sector. My legal journey began at a boutique firm in the UK. Along the way, my interest in human behavior led to a fascination with how dynamics play out in the legal landscape. 

Some patterns emerged:

  • Bright ideas often get overshadowed. 

  • Persistent challenges arose in team management. 

  • The traditional billable hours model stifling efficiency.  

  • There was the mindset that the more you billed the more “value” you had.

  • And a concerning indifference to well-being and mental health. 

Many seasoned legal professionals seemed to trade personal satisfaction for relentless work. More broadly, I saw legal teams hesitant to embrace new approaches, to innovate. 

In 2014 Silicon Valley beckoned, I following where my skills and passions intersected. I expanded my skills in Executive Coaching, immersed myself in leadership and performance coaching, and got my ICF and IPEC certifications. 

In my leap away from legal practice, I followed what I love: energy management, human performance, and legal tech innovation. I decided to dip my toes into entrepreneurship, started a business to change legal culture from the inside out. Drawing from my background as an employment lawyer and working with HR teams on the subject of optimizing performance, I channel my energies to support legal professionals, in finding balance, fulfillment, and cultivating the right mindsets for an innovative approach. 

If you're familiar with the CLOC Core 12, I fall within Organizational Optimization and Training & Development. As we look to the future of law, I know the standout Firms/ Teams/ Organizations will be those that embody resilience, agility, and creativity.

Change Management:

The Heartbeat of Innovation

Here's a reality check - We often place technology on a pedestal. 

Sure, technology takes us to the future.

Tech products can be portrayed as magic bullets, encouraging organizations to purchase, yet, can result in a  "band aid" approach. 

Despite possessing state-of-the-art tools, an alarming 75%* lawyers have observed failures in technology adoption. In a 2022 Legal Tech Survey conducted by ContractWorks, 90% of participants (lawyers and legal staff) expressed frustration with implementation of legal technology. Long implementations and complicated interfaces have a large impact. The survey uncovered that technology failures can have a severe impact on morale - causing division, impeding self-confidence, and encouraging turnover. Legal Operations professionals noticed a trend emerge during legal tech implementations. While the success of operations is largely dependent on tools, strategy, and leadership, it has become clear that change management failures are caused in large part by team dynamic dysfunction; including mindsets and energy dynamics that existed before implementation. And when financial quarters tighten, and budgeting becomes stringent, investing organizational culture — despite being the bedrock of success — can simply be seen as discretionary spending. For technology to truly embed itself in Legal functions, we need to be energized, forward-thinking, and hungry for change. 


Tech failures dent morale, leading to division, dwindling confidence, and elevated attrition rates.

The overarching question then is:

  • How do we foster the attitudes and aptitudes, the right mindsets in our teams?

  • How do we instill resilience, especially when balancing the tightrope of change against the weight of demanding work schedules?

It's not a simple feat. Authentic change, especially in the face of resistance, can feel like a herculean task. It's rigorous, time-consuming, and hardly instantaneous.

In an ever-shifting professional environment, fostering a robust culture is the ultimate competitive advantage an organization can secure. Unfortunately, this can be overlooked by leaders. 

The Invisible Energy Centre and Heart Culture

A robust culture is the #1 competitive advantage an organization can have. 

What is Culture? 

Organizational Culture is the collective manifestation of values, beliefs, customs, practices, behaviors, and underlying assumptions shared by members of an organization. 

  • It shapes how individuals perceive, think, and react to their environment. 

  • Successful change initiatives often hinge on the alignment of anabolic team energy’s or thriving culture, working collaboratively, towards the desired change.

  • When team energy is in alignment with team strategy, it acts as a catalyst, accelerating change, and facilitating an environment of continuous growth, and forward movement. 

  • When there's a disconnect, team culture serves as a barrier, with team members resisting even the most thought-out change strategies. 

In these situations, it’s easy to understand how Legal can be perceived as the department of NO. 

The Heart of Innovation:

Team Culture 

Anabolic Culture 

Anabolic culture and team energy  promotes: Communication, open dialogue, requires and values diverse feedback, it responsibly encourages risk-taking, and readily adapts. Notable Innovative US & UK legal service innovation - From boutique firms to international: 

  • Boutique: Zent Law, Novus Law, Melius Law

  • International: Fuse/ A&O, Konexo/ Eversheds, Nextlaw Labs/ Dentons, Reinvent/ Baker McKenzie.

Catabolic Culture 

Conversely, where culture is catabolic, team members may be fearful of committing errors, there's a blame culture, team members are burning out, these dynamics inadvertently suppress innovative endeavors. In these firms, billable hours remain the dominant metric, technology adoption is viewed with skepticism, and a risk-averse mentality stifles experimentation. Such a culture can often hinder the integration of tech solutions, leaving them lagging behind more agile competitors.

Change Management Breakdowns 

Mindset/ Statement: "I don’t understand why I have to do this.”

  • Implication: Indicates a lack of communication or understanding of the bigger picture.

  • Example: Attorneys suddenly tasked with transitioning to a new software may resist the change if they don't grasp its long-term benefits, like improved organization or collaboration.

Mindset/ Statement: "I don’t have time.”

  • Implication: Suggests a culture of overwork or inadequate time management, stifling adoption of beneficial practices.

  • Example: Overwhelmed legal professionals might avoid learning a new, efficient knowledge management system, missing its long-term benefits due to their perceived immediate time constraints.

Mindset/ Statement: "This is the way it has always been done.”

  • Implication: Represents resistance to change and can hinder modernization.

  • Example: Long-standing law firms may resist digitizing their extensive paper documentation, becoming slower and less competitive in a progressively digital landscape.

Mindset/ Statement: "I’ll just do it myself; it's faster.”

  • Implication: Indicates potential trust issues or ineffective delegation.

  • Example: A senior attorney might handle tasks typically designated to juniors, believing it's quicker. Over time, this deprives juniors of growth opportunities and adds unnecessary burdens to the senior staff, affecting the team's overall progression and efficiency.

Leadership: The Guiding Force

Guiding the culture, at the heart you find its leaders. The best legal leaders see the bigger picture. They foster a team culture of trust and accountability. With the right leadership, we can create a better work environment for all. Legal team wants to be strategic and responsive, rather than reactive. It's all too common to hear legal professionals describe their experience as "drinking from a firehose." Both in-house teams and law firms aspire to be dependable centers of information and counsel for expanding businesses. Legal shouldn't be seen as an obstacle but as an enabler.

Innovation is the melding of the right Mindsets, Culture & Leadership.

How can we develop our legal leaders.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Legal professionals are trained to think analytically and critically, but emotional intelligence – the ability to perceive, use, understand, and manage emotions – is equally critical in leadership roles.

Offer training and workshops focused on enhancing emotional intelligence. 

Foster a Growth Mindset

Organizational psychologists such as Carol Dweck emphasize the importance of a growth mindset – the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work.

Celebrate wins, have a no blame culture, mindsets of continuous learning and improvement. 

  • Prioritize Effective Communication

  • Promote Change Resilience

  • Vision and Purpose

The Pillars of Progress:

Culture, Leadership, and Mindset

Continuous learning.

Scalable systems, and talking work off, so that people have headspace. Harnessing this energy, fostering a culture of growth, and nurturing effective leadership are crucial. 

With a growth mindset, legal teams can be forward-thinking, adaptable, and more open to both technological and process-oriented changes. I'm a staunch believer in the transformative power of coaching. Through its tailored guidance, coaching has the ability to reshape viewpoints, streamline problem-solving, and offer effective troubleshooting strategies. It can be done at an individual and group level, which is why it is such a powerful tool. Remember the need for patience and persistence, innovation isn't instantaneous, change management is a process.

Leaders, and more recently teams work with coaches to be more strategic, see their blindspots, work through any heavy energy support legal leaders to optimize their human potential.I believe in the power of coaching, and how coaching can transform your perspective, help you to problem solve and troubleshoot. 

Innovation is not an overnight endeavor. It demands time, patience, and consistent effort. Firms must allow their teams the grace to experiment, learn, and iterate. Rushing innovation or imposing unrealistic expectations can lead to subpar results and demotivation.

At the heart of legal innovation lie three core components: culture, leadership, and mindset. As the legal sector ventures into uncharted territories, investing in these aspects is as pivotal, if not more, as embracing new technologies. Firms and departments should adopt a holistic approach to innovation, ensuring a prosperous and enlightened future for law.


About the Author

Charlotte Smith embarked on her legal career at Baker McKenzie in Jakarta and the BBC in London, eventually specializing in the Travel and Aviation sector at a top-tier boutique firm. Charlotte developed an innovative employment law subscription product. With HR advice lines and training, this product reshaped approaches to HR legalities, granting Charlotte notable recognition in the TTG 30 Under 30.

2014 marked a pivotal shift in Charlotte's journey as she transitioned from the UK to California. Amidst the bustling innovation of Silicon Valley, she expanded her skill set, training as an Executive Coach. This fusion of legal acumen and coaching expertise placed Charlotte at a unique intersection in the industry.

In the current era, where AI is driving unprecedented transformations in the legal landscape, Charlotte spearheads Level7 Legal with a clear vision. Level7 Legal isn't just about equipping lawyers with tools for the future; it's about addressing the profound cultural shifts and human performance aspects in legal settings. As AI and other technologies challenge traditional legal norms, Charlotte, through Level7, assists legal professionals and legal teams in navigating these waters, focusing on the often overlooked human elements. 

She is dedicated to helping teams transform, ensuring they remain agile, cohesive, and human-centered amidst rapid technological evolution.

Outside of her transformative work, Charlotte loves painting, recharges through yoga, and treasures the moments spent with young children. #CharlotteSmith #legal #innovation #culture #leadership #mindset

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