My name is Gabe Teninbaum. I'm a professor who teaches people how to analyze legal problems and to resolve them by leveraging technology.

10 Principles of Law Firm Innovation, version 1.0


I spend a fair amount of time talking with law firm leaders about innovation. After I pump them up with examples of fantastic technologies and cool methods their competitors are using, the question I often get goes something like this: “ok...we get it. We understand we need to innovate. So what next?”

Of course, it's never quite that simple: every organization is different, and each has different needs. Having said that, there have to be some set of underlying principles about the types of things they should do to innovate. As I’ve tried to crystallize my views on this topic, I thought it might be useful to lay them out.

My hope is this list will turn into something between “best practices” and a homage to the Sedona Principles for eDiscovery or the Agile Manifesto. For now, it's just some ideas that I jotted down.

Think of the below as a version 1.0, with versions 2.0 (and likely 3.0, 4.0, etc.) to follow. What does this set of principles get right? What does it get wrong?

Let's improve this and make it valuable!

1.     Think like a designer

o   The goal of innovation is to be better at serving clients: more efficient, more effective, more services, lower cost. To do this, it’s vital to empathize with the goals of clients. Ask questions, get feedback. Build around their needs. Take a design approach - seek client input and feedback, iterate, improve with feedback

2.     Involve leaders steeped in innovation and empower them to advise decisionmakers

o   Law is an entrepreneurial business venture. Run it like one. Firms need people to explore new spaces (latent market, other streams of revenue) that are not within typically lawyer expertise. To do so, it will be useful to involve professionals at high levels to make decisions who think of themselves as entrepreneurs first, lawyers second (or not lawyers at all).

3.     Invest in R and D

o   Not just something to talk about – need to put some resources into it.  It can even be rolled in with pro bono (e.g. teach attys document automation and have them automate docs for a legal aid org, then use that skill for paid work later). The big challenge may be the mindset of equity partners soon retiring – no incentive to invest long-term if they can’t take equity with them when they leav

4.     Monitor innovation

o   Someone needs to see what the new thing is and educate others about it. Watch Canada, UK and Australia – non lawyer ownership (in UK and Australia) provides incentives to innovate. Watch other industries - they’re better at this stuff. Read the bloggers and thinkers who track this for a living: Jordan Furlong (my guru and chief influence), Bob Ambrogi (on legal tech), Ron Friedmann and Kenneth Grady (both writing on process improvement), Toby Brown (on pricing), Mary Abraham (on KM), Michael Mills (on AI), and Bruce MacEwan (on all things Big Law). Send people to Legal Hackers and Meetups, and follow orgs (like EvolveLaw) dedicated to legal tech and innovation.

5.     Staff tech experts

o   Firms need people who can *do* this stuff, not just talk about it. Someone has to see possibilities in improving efficiency and output. Consider librarians, whose roles are changing from research-oracles to knowledge specialists. Their role can (at least in part) be repurposed to be trainers and users of tech/innovation tools and methods. Consider having a staff member who bills to help clients who intend to disaggregate business do it wisely - market that advice as a service.

6.     Tell the world about your innovations

o   Clients won’t hire you if they don’t know about innovations. Being innovative may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so make it known that it’s part of your identity.

7.     Collaborate when it makes sense to collaborate

o   Think about collaborating across firms, or with clients or others to build and use tools/methods that are mutually beneficial. Consider what CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Counsel) is doing: chief legal officers are sharing information about how to be efficient, effective and control all of their advantage. Why not law firms share some areas of info to provide better services?

8.     Employ Process Improvement/Project Management

o   This goes both for improving client representation and improving internal processes. DWT and Seyfarth have committed to this, and are succeeding.

9.     Use data

o   The only way to see what’s working is to measure. Using data shows what experiments work, and, when successful, drive more change.

10.  Constantly improve through trial and error

o   Iterate. Always look for ways to get better, including amending this set of principles to fit your experience (as long as it’s backed up by data!). Create hypotheses. Test them. Review results. Repeat based on new info. Commit to a constant cycle of improvement.