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The interconnected lives of ants, bees, humans and software. Placing diversity as enabler of a legal innovation strategy

22 April 2021 |

Nature is full of examples of successful collaborative processes, both intra- and inter-species.🐢🦈🐋🦜🌳

Collaborative structures in natural ecosystems often involve a diversity of species, as in the case of plant-animal win win collaborative networks. Members of these systems (the actors) play different roles, reflected in different services. For instance, in pollination networks, while the plants provide some food resource(nectar) to the animals🐝, the animals mediate pollination by transferring the pollen between plants.

There are more and more people looking at nature in order to find inspiration for improving practices and processes inside organizations.

What do legal organizations say and do when they talk about innovation? Could they also be inspired by nature? Forum, a publication from Barreaux De Bruxelles, the lawyers association in Brussels region, has published an article called Academie Digital Des Avocats in which they explain that in order to become digitally enhanced, a lawyer must innovate in order to push his client to see their problems from another angle. (“an avocat innovateur pour pousser son client a voir ses problematiques sous un autre angle”.) In other words he or she must be an “solution architect” bringing to the table expertise from different backgrounds.

I think we should all welcome and celebrate these words🎉🎉. This is totally new for a sector that was, until now, never really challenged or driven by innovation. Compared to other economic sectors (fashion, car industry, agriculture or banking), under strong pressure to innovate, law firms never had a reason to innovate. It was not in their DNA. That was clearly “a thing” for the others to do.

In the last 2 years I had the chance to speak to hundreds of lawyers👂. From my research “discoveries” I select 3 cases where I see innovation happening or at least intended. I also went to nature and we got inspired by what I saw there.

Big , Medium and Small they are all innovating (or at least they try)

The solution they try to bring in the innovative examples below might be technical, legal, psychological or human, business strategy or processes. When a team wants to offer new services in a new field, it’s called innovation. Some examples below…

Big global law firms: We want to be a business partner and legal is only part of it

I quote directly what I’ve heard from the communication department of a firm that has more than 1500 employees:

We should focus our efforts targeting the problems of the clients. If you want to provide advice that goes beyond legal, we have to focus on “the things” that matter to the general counsel or CEO. For example, if they have an issue with their staff, they have to deal with it asap, otherwise they will loose profit. We have to give them that kind of advice and make them feel we understand their business. They expect from us that we know not only about legal stuff, but also about their real problem.

Medium law firms

I met a company in Brussels that employs 12 lawyers giving advice on financial issues. They want to move from purely legal advice to offering value-based leadership, team culture transformation, and training on how a company should pay attention to ethical issues.

Small one-person law firm

I also had a nice walking conversation with Brussels based lawyer Severine Evrard. This year she is launching a very interesting training program or Mastermind as she calls it. Masterminds can help you have a better control of your professional life as a lawyer: how are emotions affecting us? how can we improve collaboration and better manage our time?

Lack of diversity in law firms is hindering innovation

Diversity is what keeps natural ecosystems alive. As we learn lessons from Covid-19, we see that a lack of biodiversity makes us more vulnerable to infections and diseases.

If you want to solve diverse problems you need to understand that only a diverse population is going to help you solve them.

I am going to be clear and very direct. I don’t see enough diversity in law firms. Law firms only hire lawyers. And often sometimes they only hire lawyers from the same university. This must change if the law firms want to innovate in the way described above. Otherwise they just end up “copying” one another.

Isabel Parker, chief legal innovation officer at Digital Legal Exchange in the UK says that cognitive diversity, working with multidisciplinary teams does bring better outcomes for clients, and thinks that the legal profession should open up to a more diverse talent pool.

In these times we live, diversity in the business environment is more than just bringing different business profiles. It also includes gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures or disabilities.

How can diversity bring innovation in legal teams?

In a volatile and complex business scenario you need a multidisciplinary and diverse team to “build” a new service.

This relevant service you want to introduce has to be designed, ideated, prototyped, bugdeted, coded, measured, packaged and sold and this requires different skills.

A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. This finding is significant for tech companies, start-ups and industries where innovation is the key to growth. It shows that diversity is not just a metric to strive for, it is actually an integral part of a successful revenue-generating business.

How can I include diversity in my firm?

Start by looking at what you have

Try to sense and feel what drives the members inside your team. Try to unlock hidden or under exploited potential. Maybe you have team members who like to draw diagrams✏️, learn data science📐 or bake cakes. All those capacities need to be acknowledge and exploited during the ideation and implementation phase of any innovation.

Recently I talked to a lawyer from a Brussels firm with 12 people. He took 1 year off legal duties to focus on content strategies, “legal design” and business development in general.

Those diverse individuals inside are often put in the spotlight or expected to help their colleagues get it right. Don’t leave them alone and give them air support and empowerment instead💪.

Start putting in place some “smart” metrics

Lord kelvin is often quoted on this, “if you cannot measure it , you cannot improve it”.

If the leaders inside law firms do not put in place measurable, specific and achievable goals on diversity inside the firm, it is just not going to happen.

Rethink your recruiting tactics

Your culture will be shaped by future recruits. Be proactive about the types of people you bring to your team. your job specifications should reflect your new values.
Start recruiting people with different profiles. and treat them as good as you do with your lawyers. I often see the non lawyers are considered inferior because they don’t invoice as much cost per hour.

Ecosystem Thinking

Understand that wicked problems are too complex to be solved by one organization alone and acknowledge the need for collaboration of a diverse ecosystems to achieve the change they are working towards. Try to approach problems with design thinking, systems design, and ecosystem mapping.

Combine diversity with affinity to your brand, vision and values

Too much diversity might also be difficult to manage. When you bring people who speak different “business languages” you need to combine this with some affinity in the form of a strong common goal and vision for your team.

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Manuel Pueyo

Content Strategist with a legal background.
I combine several years of experience in online communication with an advanced technical expertise in web development and an in-depth knowledge of UX trends & marketing tools.