Crossing the Chasm of Innovation Adoption in BigLaw – Part 1


If nothing else, the 2017 edition of Altman Weil’s Law Firms in Transition Flash Survey confirms that law firm innovation continues to merit prime coverage and legal management mindshare. While the survey finds that over 50% of the surveyed law firms are “actively engaged in creating special projects/experiments to test innovative ideas or methods,” that actually represents a slight downward tick from the 2016 survey response. Undaunted by the non-increase in activity, AW’s 2017 survey analysis highlights the innovation findings, making room in the results to do so by dropping its analysis of all other previously covered “strategic groundwork” topics. Greater mindshare is a good thing, I suppose, but until we start talking about how to establish and spread real innovation and not just “special projects/experiments,” the discussion will continue to perpetuate low expectations and fixate on missed opportunities and structural impediments. What is missing is a good conceptual framework and shared vocabulary for analyzing innovation adoption in the legal domain, but that is starting to change. In particular, Bill Henderson’s  looks like a promising platform for exploration of the complex dynamics of innovative legal operations, practices and technologies based on innovation adoption theory. By way of supporting that effort, in this blog post I provide a brief summary of the best known innovation adoption lifecycle model and describe a well-established strategy for overcoming a critical structural obstacle to innovation. To illustrate and test the model I discuss how enterprise search technology established itself in BigLaw over the course of the past 15 years. In my next post I will show how the theory can offer useful guidance for successfully innovating inside of BigLaw firms.

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