That’s a really, er, interesting idea……

16 03 2010

Product development remains a concept that’s alien to many law firms. Firstly, the idea of highly tailored legal services being associated with something as, well, crude, as a “product” is just plain wrong. Secondly, the firms just deliver what the clients want, so that’s really a type of product development, right? Unfortunately there’s a world of difference between this approach, and actually spotting a market need, creating a service to meet that need, testing it, pricing it, crafting and communicating a value proposition, and then (horror of horrors) actually proactively selling it.

I thought the lightbulb was supposed to go on when we have a good idea?

Don’t get me wrong, some firms are very good at this, but they are still in the minority. When the credit crunch rolled round, most of my in-house peers knew that a restructuring was on the cards (and once the depth of the recession became clear, it was often a fairly severe one that was required). This often involved external counsel for specialist advice, and particularly support for the HR teams. Why, I wondered to myself, hasn’t a firm packaged up a nice, client friendly offer to help with this? Something a little different from hourly rate employment advice; maybe a slicker process, maybe different presentation, maybe a faster resolution, maybe priced more attractively; ideally all with proof points of the value that was captured, nicely wrapped up, and differentiated from the competition. But nobody did.

The next challenges for law firms that do “get” product development, is to keep the process client focussed. It’s all too tempting to base the service ideas on what the lawyers think the clients need, rather than what they actually need. Most clients love to talk about their business, and using those lawyerly skill investigating business problems rather than legal ones (when the clock is ticking) is, in my experience, always time well spent. A great read on this subject is Tuned-in by Stull Myers and Scott, and explains why it’s easy not to keep the client at the forefront of the product development process (and how to remedy that).

Finally, the last little nugget to chew over (watch your teeth), is the fact that good product development requires innovation, and I believe personally that the flip side of this is that it will involve failure, something lawyers generally don’t like to talk about. I don’t necessarily advocate the “fail big, fail often” approach of some innovation gurus, but I do think it’s important not to be scared to experiment, and to learn the lessons when failure does raise its poorly groomed head.

When fear stops you going forward

7 11 2009

Thinking about new product development in law firms, the word innovation pops up. That market is one that’s getting more and more competitive, and law firms need to be different to succeed.

The problem (as I see it), is that for many firms, as innovation become increasingly important, firms will run up against the widely accepted wisdom that innovation requires you to be prepared to fail (“fail big and fail often is a maxim oft repeated in the business books).

Why is this a problem? Well, lawyers are trained from an early age not to fail; in a sense many professionals (not just lawyers) are. Use the word “negligence” and see them twitch. However, for lawyers I think the problem is more acute; much of their work involves negotiating, arguing and looking for weaknesses in another person’s case or argument, while protecting and defending their own position.

oooops, it went wrong

Did someone say negligence?

To come up with big new ideas, particularly “game changers”, businesses and people need to be prepared to see some fail. Aside from the fact that if people are not prepared (or allowed) to fail they are much less likely to  try and innovate, there is often some great learning in failure, and if a law firm is not prepared to admit failure, it may miss some crucial learning.

I’m not saying all failure is good; far from it, people need to be accountable for their use of resources (particularly time in law firms), but a place where people are institutionally conditioned not to accept failure is very different. Different as well  from a culture where people understand the risks of failure and may take some informed decisions on new products and other projects that may (whisper it) fail. Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it can also be an insidious inhibitor, and at the very least people and firms need to be aware of the role it is playing in their work lives.


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