A recent mini-epiphany got me thinking again about legal innovation. This epiphany came during a review of some survey results on the culture of large law firms. And like many epiphanies, it came from just one small comment, which served as the straw.

The survey was of law firm business professionals on their roles and challenges within big firms. Most of the responses talked about how they are primed and ready to drive change. The one small comment, paraphrased, noted that lawyers, especially partners, will not tolerate failure or imperfection.

This is nothing new for law firm professionals. However, in this context, the message for me was that innovation will be punished unless it happens without any failures or hiccups. This is of course anti-innovation. Innovation is a process of experimentation, working through mistakes to find solutions that meet needs.

So yet again, I am bearish on innovation in the legal profession. The people with the skills and desire to help law firms change have a serious incentive to sit and wait to be asked for some assistance. Raising your hand can lead to bad consequences. So why do it?

I apparently am a slow learner because I continue to not only raise my hand but move forward with change initiatives. There are a number of like-minded people out there.  That being said, the real problem is that this strong disincentive to change is built deep into the culture of firms. Lawyers (rightly so when it comes to client output) are very focused on eliminating risk (a.k.a. failures). But they then carry this culture deep into the business side of their firms, many times crippling the very efforts they will need to sustain their businesses.

And I started off the year so optimistic about 2020.

Oh well – I made it to January 6th.