How to stop looking at the horse manure and make innovation happen

In Part 1, I looked at why disruptive innovation often comes outside and suggested that those who resist change do so even at their own peril – literally, sometimes, in life and death situations. So it is hardly a surprise that even whilst espousing business transformation, lawyers resist the very changes they aspire to.

Of course, the legal services industry is not life and death. And no, I’m not going to make the Bill Shanklin jest about it being far more serious than that. Except, sometimes it is.  Sometimes human liberty, even life, can be at stake. Sometimes it does not even need to be so dramatic for a matter to have a life changing impact: being removed from accommodation unlawfully or having a judgment entered against you. With the withdrawal of legal aid there is a pressing social need for legal services to be made cheaper and more readily available to the poorest and least able in society.

We know that that’s not likely to happen for a while. The iPod wasn’t made to be cheap – when first launched it cost $399 and the first model T Ford cost $825 (or about $18,000 in today's dollars).  What happened in both cases was:

  • Innovation first
  • Process and price improvement second

First, find a solution that works for the people rich enough to play and pay. Then, move into mass production. The same is true of drugs: first the research and development that creates a cure, then the generic version available to even the poorest in global society. Once the innovation becomes readily available, if the design and functionality are not compromised, it is likely to become “sticky” and so lead to exponential change.

So process improvement and innovation that starts with reducing the price as the imperative is missing the point. The point is to find a cure: whether that is for a disease, music on the go or a means to travel from A to B with the worry of having to look after and clear up after a horse.

In other words, stop looking at the huge pile of horse manure and wondering how to move it more efficiently. Instead, start observing and understanding what clients want – not what we think they want, or even what they say they want. But what they really really want.  For now let’s agree that the following is going to be true for most:

  • When we come across a problem we want it sorted as soon as possible
  • We don’t want to come across a problem too late
  • We want the answer to be quick and easy and straightforward
  • Overall, we’d like it not to get in the way of what we are doing

These boil down to the following:

  • Access
  • Understanding
  • Speed not just of response but resolution

Already we can find a lot of useful information with a Google search, but that’s not enough. What we want is to be able to type in a problem situation and have the answer back – on the way to a meeting, without caveats about context or the need to take “proper” legal advice.

Make no mistake, somewhere out there is a technology that will change the face of legal services forever once combined with an understanding (not of how law firms run, or how to better streamline their services) of a powerful consumer demand and how it can be met.

Already the legal process is being chopped into lego-sized pieces and reassembled. Artificial intelligence is being developed that will be able to read a piece of text and apply rules to it – essentially what a lawyer does. Is this rent review notice valid, yes or no? Is this contract compliant? What is the best way to protect my interest in this business?

To begin with this technology will probably only be available to a few: the insurance companies, banks and other large scale businesses that rely upon huge numbers of repeat transactions. Already they create contracts by automatic assembly: in the future they will be able to assess whether the contracts are valid. Over time this technology will become more readily available and applied to consumer led applications.

The truth is uncomfortable. We need to drop the tools. We need to drop the tools that keep us aloof and distant and get on with providing consumers with the answers they want, when they want them, how they want them and in the format that they want. However counter-intuitive it may seem, an “escape fire” may be the way to go.

Filed Under: Legal Services

Relevant Articles
Area of Interest