At ILTACON 2018, four major law firm movers and shakers gave their own personal stories about how innovation is a people problem as much as a tech one.
Innovation isn’t just about technology. True innovation and true change can only occur if people are driving that change. Four law firm leaders brought their personal stories of people driving change in their organizations to ILTACON 2018. Here’s what they had to tell at Wednesday’s “Stories of Innovation: The Power of Personal Stories to Influence Behavior Change” keynote session.
Get Them in the Room
Wendy Butler Curtis, chief innovation officer and chair of the e-discovery & information governance group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
A few weeks ago, Curtis went and saw Cher in Washington, D.C. Cher’s 70 years old, but it took a long time for her to initially break through—at 40, she was doing local dinner shows and was initially turned down for movie role after movie role.
Curtis said she fears every day that a version of what happened to Cher will happen to her: What happens if people don’t want to actually embrace the innovation that she’s worked so hard to put forth?
“As a leader of innovation pushing change, I worry that nobody’s going to come to my innovation show. … Lawyers have incredibly busy schedules, they travel, and they’re skeptics—they’re taught to question everything.”
Orrick has a reputation as a forward-looking firm, but that doesn’t mean that immediately everyone is on board with a new, innovative idea. Curtis said that in one recent case, the only immediate feedback she got from one pitch session was that a third party “thought your voice was annoying.”
Discouraging? Naturally. But she said that when pushing for change, “the most important thing is to get them in the room, even if the big win comes later.” In the above case, for instance, the people in the room came back after a few weeks and agreed to implement the idea.
Now, she’s looking to put that thought to practice in all of her innovative endeavors—even if it means locking Orrick employees in a room and making attendance to a hackathon mandatory. But from there, she encourages problem-solving and gives permission to be outrageous and creative. Giving that freedom, she explained, allows the firm’s employees to know that innovation isn’t just a mantra, but something that can be pushed forth by working together.
Explaining Legal Disruption to Legal
Scott Rechtschaffen, chief knowledge officer at Littler Mendelson.
A few years ago, managing directors at Littler asked Rechtschaffen to get in front of the firm’s shareholders and explain how the legal world is changing. But that’s easier said than done—how exactly do you tell long-term attorneys that their business model isn’t sustainable long term?
Well, take a look at Netflix Inc., he figured at first—sending videos to people’s homes was not a new technology, but its business model upended Blockbuster. Kodak Co., Kmart. In other words, the examples of disruptive innovation are out there.
But one problem: Most of them stopped listening at the beginning. “There’s something I call attorney exceptionalism. Attorneys think that we’re different,” he said. “In fact, we’re like the frog in the pot. Hey, it’s getting hot, but it’s not that much hotter than it was five minutes ago!”
So he tried a different track and asked a few questions: How many people would go to a ball game if you actually had to go to a box office? Or if you had to buy a plane ticket at the airport? Or go to a bank to see your account? Of course, none raised their hands.
“You know why? Because lawyers are just like their clients, and clients are just like their lawyers: We all live online.” Then, he asked the big question: “Why do you think clients will continue to work with us if we don’t offer any services online?”
Many attorneys in the room got it. But in Rechtschaffen’s mind, there’s a bigger question of how attorneys use technology in general. “The problem is, we are asking them to act differently in the office than they act in real life.”
That led Littler to develop what he calls “The Knowledge Desk,” where attorneys could answer any question of a tiny team of researchers internally. That team would then know the best tool to actually answer the question. This reduced the number of firmwide emails by 30 percent, without adding any new staff or software. “I’ve had attorneys tell me, this is the best KM technology tool I’ve ever rolled out.”
Bending the Rules With Buddies
Alison Grounds, e-discovery and litigation partner at Troutman Sanders and founder and managing director at Troutman Sanders eMerge.
Long before she was a partner, before she had started eMerge, Grounds was an IP litigator. She thought she was rocking it—but the feedback she received during her fifth year at the firm was that what she was doing was support, or even paralegal work. E-discovery, she was told, wasn’t going to put her on the partner track.
So, naturally, Grounds had a bit of a crisis, and pulled up Google about whether e-discovery was actually something worthwhile. She liked her e-discovery work, but becoming a partner was the ultimate goal. And if she couldn’t get there, well, maybe she could take up bartending?
“I had the philosophy where if I don’t like what I’m doing, I don’t have to do it,” Grounds said. “I’ll save up enough money and leave at any time.”
Emboldened with that in her back pocket, she went to firm leadership and said that what she wanted to do was entirely e-discovery work, the opposite of what some told her before was the optimal career path. And, perhaps surprisingly, the answer from her mentor was, “Go ahead.”
That didn’t mean the path was easy. Despite looking to be a partner in her seventh and eighth years, she was passed over. Then, in her ninth year, she decided to do something bold: She went to firm leadership as an associate and asked for money to start a wholly owned e-discovery subsidiary. And once again, to her surprise, they said yes.
Grounds was named a partner at that time and handed the keys to what would become Troutman Sanders eMerge. Today, the subsidiary has become a major part of the firm, and her team consists of 40 people—a measure of how the firm has continued to support her technology projects.
All it takes, Grounds said, is a little luck, a lot of patience, and a propensity for risk-taking: “I was told ‘no’ many more times than I was told ‘yes.’ I had to be connected with the right people at the right times to move forward.”
It’s the Relationships, Not the Technology
Jon Grainger, CIO at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Grainger was brand new to the legal industry as a whole, and he came in at an interesting time: The firm had just received its largest global mandate with heavy technology usage, at the same time as moving the technology function from London to Manchester.
At the time, the firm’s technology function worked under the “Waterfall” method: A sequential process that ensures structure, but also rigidity and lacks the ability to scale up quickly.
“I now understand 18 months into this industry that lawyers love certainty. But there’s a problem with the Waterfall method—at the beginning of this global mandate, there was no certainty,” Grainger said.
Using that method to try and accomplish the global mandate started to look like a failure. Business analysts started to get stressed, and when they showed the developing technology to partners about four months in, there wasn’t anything that could be shared with clients.
But rather than get down, Grainger decided to look at the problem a different way: “Well actually, this is going to be a huge opportunity to change how we work.”
He talked with attorneys and found there was an alternative to act in a more collaborative way. The team moved to an agile development cycle with smaller, more frequent releases. The goal was to get to a minimum viable product within six weeks.
But to do that, he felt he needed a lawyer to join the team and be a product owner. The tech team assumed this would be a nonstarter, and despite getting silence in the beginning, the firm ultimately decided to grant his request. His group managed to get the first software iteration out in four weeks, and now does a release drop every two weeks.
“They say necessity is the mother of invention. Without that massive mandate, and having no alternative … we used that as an opportunity to move forward,” Grainger said.
And the team has responded incredibly positively, feeling they have more space to innovate than ever before. He quoted one developer as saying, “In Waterfall, you are told what to do. In Agile, you decide what to do.”