A pet theory of mine is that one of the causes of the lack of genuine innovation in traditional law (clearly not the only cause nor necessarily the largest which has to be the absence of real change in buyer behavior) is a result of the shortage of product management skills in firms.

I refer to the combination of business, commercial and technical skills that can translate the increasing interest of law firm executives in service innovation into tangible strategic change projects in those firms. At a practical level, these skills might involve tasks such as strategic planning, ideation, creating the case for investment and successfully bringing to life new products and services underpinned by the latest technologies. All perhaps as part of a wider business and cultural change journey.

Having spent almost 20 years at Accenture serving corporate clients in this field, I understand how hard this is in practice and how rare the individuals who possess these skills along with a tenacity to see change happen (a.k.a. Change Agents) really are.

In law, I find myself increasingly sympathetic to firms who broadly lack these in-house skills at any scale or level of responsibility and yet are constantly bombarded by legal technology providers and industry analysts urging them to dramatically change the way they serve their clients and by the way often at the same time, buy their products.

In this month’s excellent Harvard Business Review article entitled “Putting Products into Services”, the author Mohanbir Sawhney hints at just how complex the job of innovating traditional services businesses really is and the journey a services firm must go on in order to successfully complete the job.

Take just one area such as pricing. Pricing a new technology-based product to replace an existing service would usually require research, analysis, bench-marking and testing – historical billing data analysis, time in motion studies perhaps, a thorough understanding of the steps that constitute the soon-to-be-replaced service, client price sensitivity analysis etc. All good product management stuff. And yet even aside from the difficulties of accessing some or all of this data itself in law, I would argue the fundamental resources to even conceive of this sort of approach are lacking too. So the answer often ends up being, “take 20% off what you’d usually charge your client and hope to deliver it at a cost point that is lower than that.” Not exactly airline seating pricing sophistication.

Similarly, when it comes to actually stitching together the underlying technologies that support these new products, while a few technologies offer “iPhone-like” ease and simplicity (take it out of the box and switch it on), they are often only automating what is already fairly standard. Whereas to create genuinely (again that word) new, innovative, client solutions often requires research, requirements gathering, design, integration mapping, user experience mapping, development, testing and so on.

Take the recent example Neota Logic ran with HighQ and RAVN to build a fully automated commercial lease due diligence product. A hugely exciting example that could dramatically transform many aspects of legal work. But that required three vendors to collaborate on the idea, identify the use case, design the end to end process flow, build the technical integration and so on. Who would do all that in a traditional law firm? So what, in my humble opinion, can firms realistically do?

Three paths are considered:

Path 1 – Law firms decide they need to invest in this capability in which case the steps may be –

First, set clear strategic goals as a firm and making them measurable with equal or similar priority to those of the financial goals of the business.

Second, identify and allocate funding to secure the resources – often drawn from outside of law who have done this sort of thing before and are prepared to lead the change in law.

Third, find clients to experiment with; after all, client-led change is far easier to prioritise in the firm than internal-led change.

Path 2 – Encourage vendors such as Neota, HighQ, RAVN and others to collaborate more in these sorts of ventures, both formal and informal.

Path 3 – Look to the market in hope for the arrival of an “Accenture” style business integrator.

Whichever, if we can address this systemic gap, my prediction is that we would start to see a dramatic upsurge in genuine (last time I promise) innovation in traditional law firms service delivery models that not only achieve their strategic goals but lead to long-lasting industry-wide change.