Written by Alyssa Walker

The legal industry is embracing innovation. Clients look for more than just strong legal skills in a lawyer. They also look for technological innovation, creativity, and a commitment to finding ways of doing what lawyers do best better.

What does it require? A shift in traditional thinking. Traditionally, law firms operate on the concept of billable hours, which does not compute when it comes to innovation and certainly not when it comes to collaboration.

Now, more law firms are looking at different ways to structure their practices to allow innovation to thrive. Why? The more innovations law firms can offer the better: client portals, engagement apps, and real-time dashboards that display real-time status updates which will attract, delight, and keep clients. 

It is about relationships -- how lawyers use technology to bolster the working relationships among themselves and their clients.

Let's take a closer look at four innovation strategies law firms are using to attract great lawyers and keep great clients:

1. They foster a culture of innovation

Law firms that value their staff empower them to think outside the box. Traditional law firms make decisions and share ideas high up in the hierarchy at the partnership level.

Innovative firms encourage everyone to participate in decision-making and idea-sharing, which is anathema to how the legal industry has traditionally worked in the past. While the hierarchy still exists, there is more opportunity at all levels to participate and have a say in decision-making. 

They also foster a respect for diverse perspectives. That means a diversity of voices from a variety of backgrounds, all with different interests and strengths.

Innovative firms are fun places to work, with professional and technical staff across all levels contributing to the spirit of innovation with the goal of doing great work better.

2. They align with client strategies and goals

Innovative law firms know that they are in business for one reason and one reason only: to help their clients.

Some focus on their target market's problems, using social media to cultivate to new partnerships.

Others help their clients by passing down any cost savings that they make to their clients. This results in satisfied, long-standing clients likely to recommend the firm.

3. They adapt to technological progress

Innovative law firms don't fear technology. They embrace it

Some move to largely remote offices, because technological advances have made this possible. To embrace open and flexible work plans, they develop or adopt secure cloud-based platforms that enable lawyers to access their workflows, calendars, client interfaces, and even blogging to manage their end of business.  

Many innovative firms have also moved to document and contract software technology. 

As long as innovative firms keep the needs of their clients first on their priority lists, then any technology they use only enhances their experience and makes the firm more efficient.

4. They break the law firm business model

Innovation and law firms traditionally don't go together. The legal business model prices its work, pays its lawyers, rewards its shareholders, and produces legal services.

Any expense required to innovate decreases their revenue. Why do it?

Clients don't need to be charged based on a lawyer's time and effort and lawyers don't need to be paid based on their time and effort. That's right: if law firms change the structure of how they work, they can make room for innovation and reap the benefits.

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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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