Innovation has become a bit of a buzz word but it is perhaps not the most helpful of terms. Improving the way your legal team works doesn’t necessarily involve inventing something brand new or implementing a fancy new legal technology solution. 

We think the Telstra Australia case study is illuminating. Telstra’s large legal team was able to optimise its in-house work allocation and save 40,000 lawyer hours annually. While an amazing headline, only a very small part of this involved a new technology solution (an instant NDA self-help tool). The vast majority of efficiency gains game from being smarter about the meetings lawyers attended, reducing lawyer review of non-legal documents, and streamlining internal reporting.  

We don’t think it will be a surprise to any in-house legal team to be told that meetings, being a “safe pair of hands” and internal processes and paperwork take up quite a lot of time. But Telstra’s innovation (perhaps even “revolution”) was first to quantify the time spent doing it, then simply to say “we’re not doing this, it’s not a good use of our time”. No technology involved in that! 

If you want to innovate improve your legal team, start by identifying your problems. That may be self-evident, involve brainstorming with your team, stakeholders and clients, or (like Telstra) collecting and analysing data. The exercise will form the basis of a needs analysis and help you identify what you need and – perhaps more importantly – the people you need to help do achieve your goals. 

Simon Wardley offers some fantastic insights into the nature of business processes and innovation that can be very useful for legal teams. One idea we really like is distinguishing innovators into “pioneers, settlers and town planners”: 

  • Have you identified that your legal team’s core systems are fine, but you need to optimise and improve the way you work for greater operational efficiency and effectiveness? Or are you drowning in administration and project management? You need a town planner, someone who can organise your team and systems. Or in terms that might be more familiar to lawyers, a practice manager. Practice managers are great at running and optimising existing systems. 

  • Does your needs analysis show that your team (or perhaps more likely, your wider organisation) has systems, tools, technologies or processes, but they don’t work well, cause issues for the legal team, or could be better for your clients? You need a settler, a person skilled at taking a tool or process that is already there and turning it into something practical, efficient and effective. In more legal terms, we consider settlers as legal operations or business improvement managers. Legal operations managers are great at improving the way legal teams work internally and with their clients. Many legal operations managers can also help legal teams work with the tools and technologies available, and make those tools and technologies work better for the legal team. 

  • But what if you need an entirely new legal operating model, or are looking at implementing a brand new tool or technology? You need the pioneer, the blue sky thinker with new ideas and expertise. In legal circles, this skill set is most usually found in the legal consultant. Legal consultants can help you pick a new tool, develop a new system, or help you formulate a new legal operating model. 

Wardley makes the point that all these types of innovators are brilliant in their own way and play on each other’s skills and expertise. In our experience it is impossible for one person to be brilliant in all these areas – the legal consultant expert in designing and building a new systems may not have the skills or inclination to implement a continuous improvement or client initiative, nor to efficiently compile, analyse and report on legal team metrics.  

What does this mean in practice? 

One of the most important things you can do to “innovate” successfully is find the right person with the right skills to help you deliver your legal innovation project. Don’t hire a practice manager to design and deliver a new technology system. But equally, don’t hire a legal consultant to run your business-as-usual processes. And definitely don’t take a fixed mindset that we have to deploy a new technology in order to be “innovative”. Like Telstra, you might get far better results from a practice manager optimising your existing processes, or a legal operations manager helping you configure your existing tools and technologies better. 

If you need help with your initial needs analysis, or if that needs analysis shows you need a legal consultant or legal operations expert, Juno Legal can help you on a consultancy or flexible basis. Please get in touch for an initial consultation. 

By Juno Lawyer Matt Farrington