Friday, May 28, 2004

Can law firms innovate?

Matt Homann asks:

Quick, in the last decade, what has been the most significant positive change in the way lawyers do business? How about over the last twenty years?

Seriously, apart from technology making us available 24-7, I can’t think of one way the legal business model has changed in a positive way for lawyers, their staff, or clients. [the [non]billable hour]

Great post, and one that deserves much discussion. I think the easy answer to this is that law firms haven’t innovated much in the past twenty years, but I also think that’s not true. That said, many of the innovations in use are in the background, and are often transparent to the clients. (Which begs the zen-like question: if a firm innovates in the background, does anybody care?)

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen talks about organizations that listen to their customers and go out of business. And the irony is that, in the legal profession, I don’t expect change to come from within the firms — I think it has to come from clients who demand their firms change in order for the change to be lasting.

Which presents an interesting dilemma: if Christensen’s to be believed, most innovation comes from not listening to customers. Law firms have perfected that, yet it has served only to reinforce a business model that many find wanting.

Where will the pressure to innovate come from?


  1. It is not so easy for customers to demand change, since the law profession has a monopoly on legal judgement. Lawyers have civilians pretty well intimidated. When there are legal transactions or disputes, lawyers are on both sides, with a shared interest in obfuscation and billable hours, at odds with their clients' interest in clarity, agreement and economy.

  2. Value Billing or Venal Bilking?

    I've been trying to figure out how "value billing" by lawyers could/should work in the context of the

  3. On the topic, see this description of a "collaborative divorce" method that does sound innovative.