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Legal Innovation Definition and Challenges

Last Thursday, January 28th 2021, the Ottawa Legal Innovation Hub had the pleasure of discussing legal innovation in the firm setting with four successful lawyers and legal innovators. Our panel consisted of Kimberly MacLachlan and Kathleen Leighton, two practice innovation lawyers at Stewart McKelvey; Aaron Baer, partner at Aird & Berlis; and KC Miu, partner at Fasken Vancouver.

Our panelists discussed how they would define legal innovation in their firm and practices:

KC Miu: “Innovation to me is not about technology; innovation is about the change in paradigm. Currently, we’re still doing things the same way we did in the 19th century. The only thing that has changed is the way we store and use data. The change is not just technology, but how we as lawyers change the way we work.”

Kathleen Leighton: “Legal innovation boils down to creative problem solving – streamlining processes, eliminating wastes and inefficiencies in the legal process, and improving consistency. That may entail different practice management solutions, different precedents and templates, and workflow checklists. Technology is not the sole basis of legal innovation.”

Aaron Baer: “Legal innovation is all about asking “why” and being curious. It’s not about having the best idea or solely about technology. Legal innovation is taking other industries and sectors’ business practices and implementing them into the practice of law.”

Kimberly MacLachlan: “Legal innovation is about adding value to the client. Making a process more efficient, predictable, and cost-effective to promote access to justice. It involves the client asking: “In addition to the legal service, what else am I getting from your firm that I am not getting at another firm?””

Overall, we heard that legal innovation speaks to the type of risk we are willing to embrace – the status quo is no more risk-free than the alternative. We must decide which one we accept. Thus, change naturally comes with challenges.

Our panelists also discussed the challenges they have faced in legal innovation:

Kimberly MacLachlan: “The first challenge is that lawyers, by their very nature, focus more on the solution than the problem. We need to mirror our excellent problem-solving ability in legal innovation and not skip ahead to the solution – we must look at ways to improve the process.”

“The second challenge is that benefits may be intangible and not monetarily profitable – so the challenge is managing the metrics and measurement side of quantifying the value produced by legal innovation. Legal innovation benefits may be as simple as improved employee morale and work-life balance.”

Aaron Baer: “The real challenge is the people and the current law culture – people like to jump to technology but at the end of the day, it’s mindset and people. Ego is another issue – you’re paid based off your year of call. It’s hard to get past the struggle of more senior lawyers thinking they always know more than you. Being busy is another issue – people may act too busy to be open to or listen to innovation. Finally, we are all trained to be skeptical, which poses a large challenge in being open to legal innovation.”

KC Miu: “Technology is not necessarily an investment that has a long-term payback; it could be immediate as well. Our Chief Innovation Officer says that “technology is the new real estate – are we restructuring the way we work?” If we save a bit on real estate, that would be more than enough to recover on investment in legal innovation. If we think in that way, it’s a better investment for better proposed return.”

Kathleen Leighton: “Change management is very important. People are naturally resistant to change. You need to get stakeholders impacted by the process involved from the get-go, so they are more involved in creating the change rather than imposing change on them. As long as we share benefits with other individuals and groups, the more others are open to change.”

As we heard from our panelists who are on the forefront of legal innovation, we can all play a part in innovating the legal field– to do so, we need to become more open to change and use our problem-solving skills to enhance our daily behaviours and legal processes.