Alan Larkin writes for Solicitors Journal (August 2019 issue).

Advising a roomful of senior lawyers from disparate firms that they needed a god in their heads to succeed with innovation is unorthodox but it grabs attention.  Besides, I think it’s true.  Metaphorically, of course.  My workshop opener was enthousiasmus – the Greek root of our modern-day ‘enthusiasm’ –  being possessed of a divinely endowed energy and drive. A compulsion to achieve an outcome, often accompanied, according to the ancient Greeks,  by speaking in tongues.  But more of that later.

I like to think of enthousiasmus as the rocket fuel that propels an innovation to realisation.  And the fuel tank will need to be exceptionally large to power a radical innovation through the many obstacles that will be placed in its way.  Those obstacles, financial, structural and cultural are too numerous to list here but they are solid and obdurate.

Even if we have an endless supply of enthusiasm how do we create the catalysing moment when the gem of an innovation is born? We are familiar with the notion of a ‘Eureka’ moment when a solution to a pain point presents itself.  I experienced my own epiphany –  which propelled me along the tech innovation road –  nearly a decade ago.  And I can report that the enthousiasmus is unexhausted.

I value the Eureka moment.  I enjoy hearing of others’ revelatory visions: the fuses that once lit burn brightly defying the buffeting winds and drenching cold water of the naysayers.  But despite my experience, I would argue that the Eureka moment is not a privileged position, absent which, innovation cannot emerge.  I contend that the spark of innovation can be struck off the base material that lands in our inboxes daily.

I confess to hoarding one such base material: research reports.  Mainly, but not exclusively, about legal services and client perceptions.   You know the sort of thing: it lands in your inbox and you’ll have a read later, right after finishing that urgent client work or gnashing your teeth over the latest debtor days figures.  There may be a clickbait headline:  “Clients want robo-lawyers”.  Or the apparent dullness of the piece dooms it to instant deletion. When was the last time you read the source research behind such headlines?

I locate the source, download it and go through it line by line.  I pan for gold.  There will be small mountains of sand and grit but with patience and careful winnowing, a flash of something precious may appear.

I remember a Ministry of Justice study with an extensive cohort of real people with real problems seeking legal information or advice.  The web-based legal information they encountered was woefully inadequate, hopelessly generic and in the case of solicitors’ websites, little more than marketing puff. No surprise then that the public turn to the assurance of a face-to-face consultation.  Sadly, for many of the cohort, the free interviews (for family law matters) even when they ran over the allotted time, left the respondents no clearer about the specificity of the law or the next steps they should take.  The expressed needs and expectations of many were left unfulfilled by the process used by most solicitors.  What a monumental wake-up call to address this unmet need.  How precious is that insight?  This market intelligence alone, provided to us free of charge, should spark any number of innovative ideas to remedy the gross deficiencies in our onboarding model.

Another example; from the Legal Services Board: most people associate family law solicitors with the court. And those same people don’t want to go to court.  Reflect on that.  The collective efforts of family lawyers to tool up on dispute resolution alternatives to the court process has barely registered with the public.  How can we be so poor at promoting awareness of our expensively acquired skill-sets?  From a lawyer-brand perspective, this is a disaster.

Most of the research I’ve digested has led to experimentation and innovation within my team.  Those ideas suggest themselves – no spark of genius required.

And the speaking in tongues?  Try exploring knowledge domains outside of the legal services sphere; the languages of behavioural economics, neuroscience, or gamification.  There is a big world out there and so very much to be enthused about.

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