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4 Tips for Smart Law Office Innovation in 2021

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It's a process, not an event.

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“As our industry continues to experience seismic shifts in the practice of law, the need for innovation – applying people, processes, and technology to do something better, faster, or more efficiently – has never been more important,” according to this blogpost at Above the Law.

Innovation doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as investing in new time-and-billing software. And it doesn’t have to be sweeping. It can be as targeted as tweaking the job description for your front-desk receptionist.

But without a clear end-goal and a strategy to get there, you could end up wasting time and money with nothing to show for it.

Following are four key principles of effective Law Office Innovation.

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4 Guiding Principles for Effective Innovation

“Innovation typically comes about as the result of a long, labor-intensive process – usually involving more than one person – to find a better way of doing something,” writes Ken Crutchfield for Above the Law. “It takes time, resources, and a lot of patience for those who are committed to adding value, creating efficiencies and improving processes.”

Here are four innovation guidelines, courtesy of Crutchfield and Above the Law:

Innovation Principle #1: Plan for Uncertainty. The path of innovation is rarely straight and predictable. “It is not uncommon for leadership to expect a roadmap before engaging in a project,” according to Crutchfield. “But innovation is often uncertain, and the expectation of certainty where progress can be measured like mile markers on a highway is problematic. Innovation almost by definition requires discovery and trial and error. That said, it can be helpful to map out segments of a project ahead of time (perhaps by weeks or months at a time) to help track progress.”

Innovation Principle #2: Budget for Research and Investigation. “Understand the parameters of a project and what is possible,” according to Crutchfield. “A list of unknowns can be developed and assessed for risk. Alternatives can be ‘scouted’ for possible solutions. Once those steps have been taken into account, say through a proof of concept, it is then possible to use more traditional project management techniques to estimate project costs and timelines.”

Innovation Principle #3: It’s a Process, Not an Event.Innovation projects typically include risk factors – after all, if the outcome were certain, it wouldn’t really be innovation,” says Crutchfield. “How many times have we heard statements like, ‘We tried that once, but it didn’t work?’  The process of innovation is about learning from prior attempts and trying again.”

Innovation Principle #4: Fail Fast. “Nobody wants to embark on a big project and fail.  A key to managing the process is to create small projects with defined scope, ‘fail fast,’ and learn from the failure in order to create the next series of small projects to move the process forward. By structuring innovation into a series of smaller projects, with some experimentation and an allowance for failure, a firm can be successful in the story of a broader journey and adventure.”

Source: Ken Crutchfield, Above the Law

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