Definitely Mabey

Innovate or abdicate

In my August 2010 column I included a brief section on innovation. Right up front let me disclose that like a blind pig finds an acorn occasionally, little did I know how important innovation was going to be to law firms in 2011.

Stephen Mabey Author

There are two general forms of true innovation that firms can experience:

  • Breakout innovation: a development effort that goes beyond new and improved into the realm of very different or self-reinventing; and

  • Performance innovation: involves efforts to improve already established services or processes by adding new features, improving quality, reducing delivery times, or enhancing support services.

There will always be exceptions to any general rule, but the former type of innovation is found in firms that are successfully chasing the high-end legal work and the latter in firms that make their money (and good steady money it is) off more routine or commodity-type work and therefore strive to be low-cost, leveraged firms.


The high-end work is generally found in the larger metropolitan centres, but even in these centres there seems to be less of it and the large quasi-national firms appear to be chasing, more so now than ever, some of the files felt to be too pedestrian for them in the past! But don't get me wrong—no one is going to be holding a benefit concert for these firms any time in the near future. So given the vast majority of lawyers in North America who deal with the routine/commodity-type work, this column will focus on how you might create a platform for innovation in your firm.

Innovation is not for the faint of heart. You will experience failure. If you are really encouraging innovation, you'll likely experience more failure than success, because everyone will be trying to come up with the next great innovation. Yes, for the skeptics in the audience, I am suggesting that firms encourage and reward failure (spectacular failure preferably).

Before tackling things that your firm can do to encourage innovation by your lawyers, let's review the ways many firms kill innovative thinking by lawyers (note: they're generally the same reasons why many law firm change initiatives fail):

The rest of this article is available in Stephen Mabey's new Book

Book Cover - Leading and Managing a Sustainable Law Firm - Tactics & Strategies for a Rapidly Changing Profession by Stephen Mabey

Available for purchase on BookBaby.




Until the next column remember,

"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little past them into the impossible. ”

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First Published in Canadian Lawyer September 2011. Copyright © Applied Strategies Inc.

Legal Strategy Consultant