ALPMA Adapting

Innovation déjà vu

You may recall my ‘innovation rant‘ back in May, in which I railed against the prevailing current trend whereby everyone is trying, or often just pretending, to be a ‘disruptor,’ an ‘Uber of something,’ or see themselves as an ‘innovator.’

To facilitate this ‘buzzword-fest’ there is an innovation and/or technology conference, summit, hackathon, or something like that, every single week now. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it sure feels like it, and my inbox has never been fuller of conference invitations.

So much so, that a few weeks ago I felt compelled to make, an admittedly sarcastic, observation on Twitter, as yet another innovation conference was unfolding:

Don’t get me wrong. Conferences, summits, and hackathons are great opportunities to get together with like-minded peers, exchange ideas, learn, and teach. But do we really have to have them with this frequency?!

If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.
James Arthur Baldwin

And remember, one of the key factors in innovation is downtime, and a little boredom … yes boredom. So stop conferencing 24/7, keeping endlessly busy, and constantly patting yourselves on the back for being ever so ‘innovative,’ and let yourselves get bored a little.

Perhaps some of that conferencing time could be more beneficially spent back at the office, actually focusing on affecting the cultural change that’s critical to creating the right environment for incubating thinking, creativity, and innovation.

I was delighted to see my historical crankiness about the ongoing ‘innovation’ shenanigans reinforced this week by a survey.

Adapting to the Changing Legal Landscape‘ was released by the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and InfoTrack, at the ALPMA Legal Management Summit in Melbourne.

The survey looked at 163 law firms across Australia and New Zealand, with 17% rating themselves as very innovative, and 48% as innovative. Only 6% were brave enough to admit they are ‘not at all innovative.’

While 65% of the firms gave themselves a seal of approval on innovation, and 63% said innovation was part of their strategic plan, less than half agreed that they are investing sufficient people (48%), time (47%), or money (44%) to support innovation.

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Gloria Steinem, et al.

The firms self-reported innovation focus in the areas of technology (62%), processes and the ways they work (60%), business model and strategy (34%), products and services (33%), people and resourcing (33%), and marketing and business development (32%).

While the firms self-reported a strong focus on technology, only 10% were brave enough to rate themselves ‘miles ahead of the pack,’ another 28% thought they are ‘ahead of the pack,’ with a whopping 48% conceding to a ‘middle of the pack’ position when it comes to technology.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many firms reported that a large proportion of their initiatives are either ‘in progress’ or ‘planned,’ with many tagged as unlikely to proceed in the ‘forseeable future.’

Overall, less than 10% of people-related initiatives have been implemented across the surveyed firms.

Paradoxically, the most (but also least) successful category of initiatives is the improvement of female representation in partnerships and on boards, with 22% of the firms reporting they completed implementation, while 44% still has this in the ‘too hard basket.’ The only other initiative with such a high level of deferment is … diversity – enough said.

When it comes to technology-related initiatives, the implementation rate is better, but the highest rates appear reserved for categories that many would consider an absolute given in 2016, such as accounting software (67%), document management system (60%), practice management system (59%), mobile and remote access to work (56%), precedent management (50%), and disaster recovery (48%).

Frankly, given the critical nature of these systems and processes, I find even those percentages shockingly low.

And when it comes to truly modern, innovative technologies, the numbers collapse:  project management tools stand at 21%, workflow automation is at 17%, and AI tools languish at the back of the pack at 15%. To make matters worse, 71% of the firms have AI technology in the ‘too hard basket.’

More tellingly, only 54% of the firms think they have an effective blueprint for change.

On the whole, based on this survey, the innovation report card for the Australian and New Zealand legal services industry is, at best, a C-.

If I was a gleeful person, I would be doing the ‘told you so dance’ right now.

But I’m not that kind of person …

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