Lifting the lid on Innovation – learnings from history for legal

What is innovation?

A quick search on the internet gives a couple of definitions:

“An innovation is a new thing or a new method of doing something”

Innovation is the introduction of new ideas, methods, or things”

A short history lesson

Take the financial service sector; specifically personal banking. This has changed or innovated greatly in recent decades – a paradigm shift. Contrast today’s personal banking with 30 years ago.

The number of banks and building societies has decreased. Legislation permitted building societies to become banks. Institutions merged allowing them to become leaner and more competitive. New players entered the market with radical offerings and approaches. Think Virgin Money, IF, Handelsbanken etc.

Over time the delivery model evolved. There were many iterations.

Branches were for withdrawing money, and paying in cash and cheques, where customers queued for much of their lunch hours to pay their utility bills over the counter. The ethos of the branch was about service rather than sales. Now the number of branches has decreased, with very different formats, much more friendly, geared towards selling with much less cash being handled.

The manufacturing activities of banking; processing cheques, managing deposits and lending moved from the back offices of branches to centralised hubs. In parallel cheques were replaced with debit cards and electronic payments. The volume of cheques processed now is very low.

Banks opened call centres where staff through technology can process most transactions whilst they talk to you. They tend to be multi-skilled and so can deal with the majority of requests with no need to transfer the call to specialists.

More recently the call centre delivery channel is becoming secondary to on-line banking. Now we can do much of our routine financial needs using our mobile phones.

So how did this happen?

The metamorphoses started small. Banks tested and piloted new concepts. The first call centres were very much a sticky tape and string approach. They learnt as they went. Customers had to become comfortable with their offerings. Technologies were developed: call routing and recording technologies, improved telephony and then mobile phones, the internet was created and adoption rates soared. The financial services evolution would not have been as radical without technological, economic and legal changes external to the sector. Financial services benefited from concepts originating in other sectors; synergies.

I doubt anyone could have predicted today’s landscape.

Yes, there was resistance along the way. There was the “we’ve always done it this way brigade”. Some learnt to change and accepted the new ways of working. Others enjoyed the ride, thrived on change and developed themselves. Yes, there was pain at times. Skill sets had to change. No longer was it necessary for be able to assess a lending proposition manually. Financial services needed IT programmers and developers, process designers, quality analysts, strategists and planners – people who could bring the new world into existence.

Innovation within legal

I believe innovation within legal means:

  1. Most matters can be classified by type. From this they can be deconstructed into individual processes some of which are relatively homogenous and can worked by dedicated groups of people within the ‘right environment’.
  2. Once the processes are understood appropriately skilled and rewarded teams can be created and located in cost-effective environments.
  3. New technologies can be applied, where appropriate to parts of the process
  4. Matters are costed and priced effectively
  5. Enhanced structures are applied to the legal business
  6. Technologies and innovations external to legal are evolved to serve the sector

These steps are iterative and are repeated gradually refining the service and delivery.

Five key take aways for legal

  1. Change is happening and will continue.
  2. Legal like other sectors will create it’s own innovations and utilise new concepts developed in other sectors.
  3. Some innovations will be successful; others less so.
  4. It’s better to change yourself than have others force change upon you.
  5. Leading change needs a combination people types: lawyers who understand ‘legal’ and innovators who know how to make change happen.