All too often we get caught up in a cycle of gloom and doom for the legal profession and lawyers. You know the litany: as a profession, we are doomed because we don’t keep up with the times. We are doomed because our mission in life is to make those who want to innovate in our midst as miserable as possible. We ignore reality and some day its going to catch up to us, much to the delight of all our detractors.

So, it was refreshing to start day 3 of ILTA hearing from four IT/CIOs talk not doom and gloom but tell stories of success in their law firms in introducing innovations that were not only accepted but widely popular.

Jon Grainger, CIO of Freshfields told us his story of being bold and asking for lawyer membership on his team charged with innovating and introducing technology; and how that changed the outcome. Alison Grounds, Troutman Sanders partner, told her story of pursuing her vison and passion in a traditional law firm and succeeding. Wendy Curtis talked about overcoming slights, insults and disbelief to establish an ongoing innovative program at Orrick. Scott Rechtsschffen, Chief Knowledge Officer of Littler Mendelson told us how he used common sense and thinking about how ordinary people use technology to help solve and overcome the complexity of systems and lawyers’ reluctance to use tech tools.

The stories were real. And inspiring. Innovators approaching lawyers and tech not by pointing fingers and using trite rationalizations and giving up. But by using patience, perseverance and grit to make bring about change.

So, what was the common thread? Why did these people succeed when so many other don’t? Several reasons.

Firms that are changing are those with IT directors who have a vision of where things should go and how and in what areas their firms can innovate.

One, they each had a vision of what they wanted to do. I happened to have coffee this morning with Dan Katz. Dan is a scientist, technologist, law professor and one of the most astute legal commentators around. As is often the case, we quickly got around to discussing the state of lawyers and innovations.

Dan made the point that there are several firms that are starting to get it and are taking proactive steps to be better and more efficient. Some still aren’t. I asked Dan what he thought made the difference. He said: that’s easy. Those that are changing are those with IT directors who have a vision of where things should go and how and in what areas their firms can innovate. Those that don’t have IT directors who think their main job is to maintain what’s already working and not seek change. When I listened to Jon, Alison, Wendy and Scott it occurred to me that this is exactly who they were. They had a vison for their firms and they were willing to do what it took to implement that vision.

Second, patience. All four said you gotta be patient in dealing with lawyers and technology. The business structure of law firms (often compared to a herd of cats, which actually is insulting to felines) where all partners can and do make themselves heard and where decisions are consensus not top down means things won’t happen overnight. And it means you have to take things in small steps, celebrating small victories.

Third: perseverance. All four told us about setbacks. Insults. Criticism. Things that would make many throw up their hands and give up. But not these four. The had a vision and the stuck to it till the end.

Four. Collaboration. All four recognized that they had to forge relationships with lawyers within the firm that would help them in their quest and vision. That would champion their vision. They spent time forging those relationships. Just like someone in any large organization has to do; the only difference is with law firms it is sometimes harder to know who has clout. Law firms don’t have junior and senior vice presidents; they have three layers: partner, associate and the non-word I refuse to use… (Hint: want to know who has clout in a law firm? Find the partner with a big book of business). All four brought in lawyers into their visions and made them part of it.

Five. They didn’t set out to change the world in one fell swoop. They didn’t say we’re are going to change the model. They said, lets look for pain points and try to fix them. They didn’t play the blame game, they went to work.

You have to recognize the realities of lawyers’ business model and business structure. You have to see them as people with problems,

So, yes, you can make innovation happen in law firms. But you have to recognize the realities of lawyers’ business model and business structure. You have to see them as people with problems, not arrogant assholes who want to make your life miserable. (I know, we have our share of them). You have to push but be smart.

What doesn’t work: saying lawyers are Neanderthals, are risk adverse and are too skeptical to ever change. We can change but you have to tell us why and make us see the value. You have to have passion, persistence and above all vision to make it happen.

And oh yeah. Tell us stories



And oh yeah. Tell us stories. Jon, Alison, Wendy and Scott made memorable points not by showing screen after PowerPoint screen with information but by their stories. And lawyers quite honestly are in the storytelling business. We persuade others mainly by telling stories. We see things through stories. We understand and learn best through stories. That’s why if you ever go to a conference full of lawyers you will hear them telling each other more war stories than you can possibly stand. Want us to innovate? Use that to your advantage and persuade us through stories. That we understand.