'Innovation' may mean law firms take different approach in marketing services

Innovation within law firms may mean working directly with clients on introducing new practices, or marketing lawyers to clients on capabilities that go beyond their technical expertise.

These ideas were just some of many introduced at a Legal Marketing Association panel discussion held Tuesday at the Toronto Board of Trade.

Friedrich Blase, Legal X @ MaRS Discovery District executive in residence and the Un-Firm of the Future managing director, recommends stoking innovation by having lawyers find a small number of “meaningful, sizeable” client relationships. He then recommends lawyers work with these clients to design new ways of delivering services.

“Innovation is the first thing you do in the day, and then you serve the clients, because that’s what your future is all about,” he said. “You need to actually do that with some of your best clients.”

Part of the issue is that the legal industry is trailing the rest of society when it comes to innovation, said Chris Bentley, Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone and Law Practice Program executive director.

He says consumers will drive change if lawyers don’t.

“We are leaving the age of the provider, and entering the age of the consumer,” he said.

Peter Carayiannis, partner with Deloitte Conduit Law LLP, said different factors have pushed law firms to innovate. He said one contributing factor was the 2008 global economic crisis which “really put a great deal of focus on legal budgets, on the behaviour of GCs, on the behaviour of in-house communities.”

“[T]he sort-of black box view to a legal budget was no longer an accepted position at the executive table,” he said.

Other factors include clients becoming “more inquisitive and more disciplined” about legal budgets. It also means considering the different approach taken by millennials to their careers.

“The approach of millennials as they join professional services firms, including law firms, is not the same as their parents. And consequently, the decisions they will make, the compromises that they will accept, the goals and ambitions that they will have in their life, will be different,” Carayiannis said.

Bryan Friedman, general manager of Axiom, says the legal services provider attracts lawyers who want the ability to say yes or no to certain files.

“There’s often the case where a lawyer will be made to take a file that they’re really not interested in, or they’re not comfortable with,” said Friedman, who pointed to an example of a lawyer who declined to do work for a company that did strip-mining in Central America. He said Axiom works with in-house counsel to maximize their value.

“What we really try to focus on is how can we transition in-house law departments from call centres to value-added providers of legal services,” he said. “We want to make sure that lawyers in in-house departments are empowered and have the ability to make their companies more competitive, not just to evaluate risk every time it comes up.”

Carayiannis said law firms may want to look at marketing their lawyers, and their value proposition in new ways, beyond their technical expertise.
Instead, lawyers should be held up as problem solvers.

“It’s not about technical expertise. Your technical expertise is assumed,” he said.

Blase said the seeds of the Un-Firm came from conversations he had with law firms.

“In the end, I didn’t find firms that were willing to take this as an offensive play, they would do it as a defensive play when the clients asked for it, but not as an offensive play,” he said.

He added that it’s a “phenomenal” time for hungry lawyers to connect to individual consumers or smaller businesses, or the “business-to-consumer space.”

“If you’re not part of it, you’re going to get run over by it,” said Blase. “And that I promise you, is so certain, over the next 10 to 15 years.”

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