Business Services News

Breaking news and analysis on videos, and photos on finance, industry trends, money, and more

Small law firm innovations come from the most unlikely places - Reuters

I've written previously about lessons that can be learned from business professionals tasked with leading law firms toward a more profitable future. These professionals bring fresh perspectives and different ideas to the business of law, helping the law firms they serve to find new and innovative ways to run their businesses.

But smaller law firms may not have these sorts of dedicated professionals on staff. This is not to say that smaller law firms don't have access to a wide range of resources for innovative ideas.

In the past, I have written about how small law firms must manage their resources wisely with a particular focus on human capital. In a prior article, I wrote about the need to assure that matters are being staffed by appropriate resources at the appropriate level. However, managing the human resources of a law firm does not just involve how they are staffed and who is doing what task. It also means empowering law firm staff to drive the law firm forward toward a more successful future.

As we look at the results of the Small Law Firm Business Leaders Report, we see that these business leaders are tasked with a wide variety of jobs, and generally feel supported and empowered to drive what they view as needed change within their law firms. However, they are less convinced the partners at their firms are truly committed to changing the way legal services are delivered to clients.

While 85% of small law firm business leaders agreed with the statement that they are empowered to drive change within their firms; only 21% agreed that there is a strong commitment to changing legal service delivery among the partners. This partial disconnect is further reinforced -- fully 57% of the law firm of small law firm business leaders disagree with the latter statement.

This is how you might think about it in the context of your firm. Would you consider your partners or even yourself to be strongly committed to the idea of changing how you deliver legal services to your clients, even if your clients have not specifically requested certain changes? What are some examples of your commitment?

And perhaps the more difficult question to answer is this: How do you think your staff would answer those questions?

So, would you believe that your staff will agree with you that you are willing to make changes? Are you giving them any reason to believe that you will listen to them and put their ideas into action if they are in the best interest of your clients? Finally, would your staff agree that they are empowered in driving change within your company?

I worry that many firms succumb to the temptation to do things the same way as they've done them in the past and neglect to find innovative solutions for their clients' problems. It is unfortunately part of human nature. This affects how we work. At the same time, even those firms that are interested in trying new things on behalf of their clients may limit the sources of those ideas to their attorneys. In a small law firm with a limited number of people, however, this could greatly restrict the pool of potential ideas to a very small number of people.

However, not all good ideas originate from places we expect.

You might be able to see that we would never have landed in the moon except for one individual who took a leap of faith and went around the chain for support. John Houbolt (a NASA engineer) wrote to NASA in 1961 recommending that a moon landing strategy be called "lunar or orbit rendezvous." Although this was one among three possible lunar-landing strategies being considered by NASA, it was the least likely to ever be used. NASA adopted the lunar orbit rendezvous method to land a man on the Moon less than a year later, thanks in large part because of Houbolt’s advocacy.

NASA could have spent decades pursuing a strategy that was ultimately ineffective for landing man on the moon. NASA leadership may not have been open and willing to consider ideas outside the traditional channels. This incredible event would not have catalyzed innovation, growth and success that spanned the globe.

Houbolt wrote to NASA directors describing himself as "a Voice in the Wilderness."

Let's return our focus to your law firm. Do you have a "voice in the wilderness"? Or, to put it another manner, do your employees feel confident raising their voices in support of new and better ways to get the right answer? Is it possible for your staff to feel empowered and to advocate for change? Do they believe you are dedicated to helping clients get better service?

These are, without any doubt, difficult questions.

So what changes are you open and willing to make? You might consider adopting new technologies, changing your billing system, looking at your workflows to find inefficiencies, and changing how your firm is presented to the public.

Consider new opinions to help you make the right decisions about how to position your law firm for future success. It could be articles from online sources. You could learn from the leaders of other law firms, which may be as large or even larger than yours. It could also be tapping into the knowledge and experience of staff members already employed in your firm.

The truth is that we do not know where the best answers will come from. However, it is important to give them a place to come up, listen to their ideas, and then act when they make an impact on the direction and change you want.

Opinions expressed here are the authors. These views do not reflect the views expressed by Reuters News. Reuters News adheres to the Trust Principles and is committed to integrity. Thomson Reuters Institute, which is owned by Thomson Reuters, operates independently from Reuters News.

Mark Haddad

Mark Haddad is the current General Manager for the Small Law Firm business of Thomson Reuters. Mark has worked at Thomson Reuters for 17 of his years. Haddad was previously Vice President of the Government Sales and Client Management Channel. Prior to leading the channel, Haddad served as Vice-President of the Corporate Segment in Legal. Haddad started his career in the legal sector as an associate at Oppenheimer Wolff Donnelly, now Fox Rothschild. He specialized in MA and public security work. He earned his J.D. He also received his B.S.B and J.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis.