Being an Innovative Lawyer 

By Lawrence Pascoe 

Compared to other businesses, lawyers have not evolved in how they serve their clients

Let’s be honest; the way lawyers serve their clients has not changed much, not just from the late 1970s when I started practicing law but probably since the 1200s when England passed laws regulating the conduct of the legal profession. Lawyers have harnessed technology to do tasks faster than they manually did before and to use modern platforms to market themselves. But they have neither created many new products nor enhanced their services. They have not, as a whole, even increased their hours of operation to the public, as has the conservative banking industry. In the 1960’s, banks finally went from closing at 3:00 pm to being open later every day, nightly, and on weekends. Lawyers are still open mainly on weekdays from 9:00 to 5:00. 

Every other business bombards its customers with client satisfaction surveys, but, in my experience, few lawyers ever bother at any stage to ask their clients for feedback on the service they received.

There are several reasons for this non-evolution (which are worth discussing, but at another time), but the main reason that lawyers did not have to improve is because there was enough legal business to go around. But that has changed. There are now many more lawyers for clients to choose from and there is competition from non-lawyers and clients representing themselves.

Why should lawyers become innovative?

To obtain enough business to survive and thrive, lawyers should enhance the service they provide to clients in order to differentiate themselves from other lawyers and to provide a better product. It is important to note that clients are generally not in a good position to evaluate a lawyer’s legal skills, but they can judge good service.

But using innovative legal service applications is not just about better marketing. The numbers consistently show that malpractice claims are caused much more by management issues and bad service, such as miscommunications, than by lawyers not knowing the law. Almost the same numbers apply to complaints about lawyers filed with bar associations. These claims and complaints are both monetarily and time costly and are very stressful. Providing better service using innovative applications in communications and fact-gathering will reduce lawyers’ potential for malpractice claims and complaints.

Statistics show there are also a lot of unhappy lawyers, many of whom are leaving the profession. The creative process of formulating innovative service applications is a break from the lawyer’s routine work and can lead to a happier lawyer. 

I would also suggest that being an innovative lawyer would be an excellent attribute when applying for a position with a law firm.  

How does one become an Innovative Lawyer?

Lawyers can start being innovative by researching what other lawyers, including those in other jurisdictions, are doing to serve their clients better. Lawyers can modify applications from non-legal businesses to apply to their practice. 

Manufacturers always have a manual of practical information.  Why not have one for lawyers? The client manual can also be a better system for clients to hold and organize the documentation and letters on their files.

Lawyers can solve basic client needs by creating innovative applications. For example, as many clients want to be more involved in processing their files, a second client monitor on a lawyer’s desk allows the client to collaborate in order to finalize draft documents and to produce financial calculations.

How to ensure innovations get created

Lawyers, especially in a small law firm, not only produce the product but also must perform all the other management functions of a business. Unfortunately, file work and mandatory management functions take up much of their time, so lawyers always put off the research and development function. However, there are some “self-help” methods to ensure lawyers complete and institute innovative applications. 

First, lawyers should allocate time during their most productive time of the day to work on innovative applications. It is better to work on a creative endeavor then rather than at the end of the day when one is generally tired out. Research has shown that taking on several projects at the same time often results in not completing any of them. Lawyers should therefore take on just one project at a time and not work or think about any other project until that first one is completed. 

Another method for successful implementation is the Japanese principle of Kaizen, whereby rather than working on a massive project, lawyers should do small ones. The applications will then build up over time. 

How to measure success

Lawyers should measure whether their applications add value to their services by asking clients for feedback throughout the file and not just at the file’s conclusion. Lawyers can then decide whether to modify or remove the application altogether.

About the Author: Lawrence S. Pascoe 

Throughout his 42 years of practice, Canadian lawyer Lawrence Pascoe continually introduced new methods to improve service to his clients. He obtained ideas by reading management books and studying what other lawyers and non-legal businesses did. He then adjusted these methods to apply to his legal practice. During his career, he wrote and presented several papers to lawyers on how to enhance client service. Upon retirement, he was able to do more research and formulate theories and processes about innovative legal service applications.

The American Bar Association recently published his book “Innovative Legal Services Applications: A Guide to Improved Client Services.” The book, which discusses his theories on all aspects of innovative legal service applications, also includes numerous examples of specific applications he used or contemplated using in his practice. The book is available in paper or electronic format from the American Bar Association website.