Newfangled Lawyering: A Call for Innovation in the Practice of Law

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Most attorneys have no interest or capacity to try something new—be it a process, system, or approach to the practice of law.

By: Patrick Patino

As attorneys, we are hardwired to be risk averse and contemplative. We enjoy the predictability and comfort of the known way of doing things in a profession that has a lot of stress, chaos, and trauma. We hold onto historical normative standards for performing our jobs because it is more comfortable to stay where we are than to move on to something new.  

Increasingly, we live in a world that demands efficient and near immediate responses and results. With technological advancement, processes and tasks that used to take hours, days, and even months can be reduced to taking seconds or minutes. As a result, attorneys will have more time and capacity to dedicate to professional and personal goals, dreams, and aspirations. Attorneys won’t be replaced, but unleashed to do more high-level thinking, counseling, and tasks that only a human can do, like empathizing with a client or having that courageous conversation with opposing counsel. 

 Attorneys are going to have to become champions of innovation.

Attorneys are going to have to become champions of innovation. My favorite definition of innovation is that it is the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something. If you focus on innovation as the introduction of new ways of doing something, it is fairly boring and benign. Let’s take calendaring for example. Putting a task, event, or meeting on a calendar is not new. The innovation is that now you can send someone a link to a calendaring tool that automatically links to both of your calendars so you can see the joint availability.  

Another task that isn’t new is opening a file when a client retains. The newfangled way of opening a file is to have the entire process automated and in the cloud. My firm uses Lawmatics, Zapier, Clio Manage, and Google Workspace. When a custom form is submitted in Lawmatics after a consultation for a flat fee matter, a matter is automatically created in Clio along with the flat fee time entry assigned to the lead attorney. Simultaneously, a client folder is created in a shared folder Google Drive and a label is created in Gmail. The decreased time with increased capacity, efficiency, and value is what innovation will look like in the legal profession. 

How do we as a profession de-emphasize the time something takes and instead focus on the value of efficiency? 

How do we as a profession de-emphasize the time something takes and instead focus on the value of efficiency? Law firms are going to have untapped capacity and potential to provide more services to clients. To build better relationships. To be healthier. To be (dare I say it) happier. As attorneys, we all have those tasks that we despise doing. Start with something small and low-risk like changing how you schedule client meetings. Instead of playing email ping-pong, send a link to a scheduling tool. 

I dare you to think of a new way of doing things. Innovation can take many forms. It does not have to be limited to technological innovation. Instead of being on call 24/7, set a new, clear boundary such as, “I don’t work after 5 p.m. on weekdays and I don’t work on the weekend.” You may be surprised by the response of creating and actioning this new way of practicing.  

Innovation requires a willingness to experiment and take risks. Fail and fail often when iterating new approaches. Trying something new won’t always work exactly how you intended the first go around. Take it as an opportunity to detach from outcomes and to become a neutral, objective observer. This will allow you to free yourself from the judgments attached to trying something new. You can flip the script from “I shouldn’t have tried to automate that task” to “How can I make this automation more aligned with my goals and values?” Innovation is not about being right or wrong, but about the process of introducing a new way of thinking or doing.  

Encourage and empower your entire legal team to think outside the box and experiment with new approaches to problem-solving, while also providing them with the necessary resources and support to pursue these ideas. By creating a culture of innovation and risk-taking, you can tap into the collective expertise and creativity of your team and identify opportunities for improvement that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. Additionally, this can help boost employee engagement and satisfaction by giving them a sense of ownership and investment in the success of the firm.  

Technology and the muse of the moment, A.I., are not going to replace jobs but inspire new ones. I think law firms should start creating positions for and hiring legal innovation specialists, individuals who are skilled and adept at building, maintaining and running systems, processes, and teams whose charge is innovation. A "Chief Innovation Officer" would also be a beneficial hire to ensure your law firm is adopting a futuristic culture, one open to a high influx of new ideas that will drive growth and improve the firm's overall efficiency and effectiveness in the ever-evolving legal landscape. By bringing in a Chief Innovation Officer, you can create a structured approach to innovation, establish processes for exploring and testing new ideas, and foster a culture of creativity and continuous improvement. This will not only help your law firm stay ahead of the curve but also differentiate itself from competitors and attract top talent who value innovation and forward-thinking.  

In alignment with these new positions, law firms should consider creating new partner tracks for attorneys specializing in legal operations and innovation. 

In alignment with these new positions, law firms should consider creating new partner tracks for attorneys specializing in legal operations and innovation. This will ensure that you are valuing these topics and creating an incentive for attorneys who have a passion for and expertise in these areas. Creating a partner track focused on legal operations and innovation will also enable the law firm to develop a culture of continuous improvement and stay ahead of the curve in an industry that is rapidly evolving with new technologies and changing client expectations. These partners will be responsible for identifying opportunities to streamline processes, implement new technologies, and optimize the delivery of legal services. They will also be tasked with identifying areas of risk and developing strategies to mitigate them. By giving legal ops and innovation partners a voice at the highest levels of the firm, the law firm can ensure that these critical aspects of its business are properly valued and integrated into its strategic planning. This can help position the firm as a leader in the industry and create a competitive advantage that will be attractive to both clients and top talent. 

Embracing technology and new ideas can provide opportunities for lawyers to tap into their creativity and passion for the law, leading to a more enjoyable and fulfilling professional experience. It is time for the legal profession to embrace innovation and the benefits it can bring, both to clients and to attorneys. By shifting the focus from the time it takes to complete a task to the value of efficiency and productivity, attorneys can unlock untapped potential, providing more services to clients, building better relationships, and improving overall health and happiness.

With a willingness to experiment and take risks, attorneys can introduce new ways of thinking and doing that will revolutionize the legal landscape. By doing so, law firms can stay ahead of the curve and attract top talent who value innovation and forward-thinking. Innovation can take many forms, including technological innovation or simply creating a new way of thinking or doing things. Let us embrace innovation and build a legal profession that is more inclusive, responsive, healthy, enjoyable, and adaptable.  

Patino_150-1Patrick Patino

Patrick Patino is an attorney at and owner of Patino King LLC, a law firm providing debtor and creditor representation in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. He is also owner and operator of Newfangled Legal, a coaching and consulting business for law firms and attorneys.
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