Okay, so maybe it isn’t quite as trendy a topic of conversation amongst lawyers as blockchain or the cannabis business, but “Innovation in the Law” is a pretty good way to get people to read your blog post or come to your speaking engagement. And if you read enough about legal innovation, you might have to be forgiven for being under the impression that it’s all about technology: blockchain, smart contracts, artificial intelligence, process management, document automation… the list goes on.
But I’ve got news for you: Innovation isn’t ever about technology. Technology is a tool. Don’t get me wrong… I love technology to the point that my wife cringes every time I go to Best Buy. We have four lawyers at Spark LLP, and five smallish file drawers (not cabinets) of physical files, and most of those are what I brought from my former… uh… technology agnostic firm. Technology can improve our lives and can dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our practices and in turn the quality of the solutions and results we provide to our clients. But it isn’t the only answer.
Innovation is about ideas. And true innovation is about ideas which challenge long-established thinking.
I joke with people that the most innovative thing to happen in the law in the last fifty years is Spark’s written No Assholes Policy. But tell me this, you who are embedded in the legal profession: What firms do you know that have no assholes among their ranks? I can’t think of any big ones. Most firms have a sliding scale of tolerance for assholes which turns mainly on how much business that particular asshole brings into the firm. You’ve got a $5,000,000 book of business? Yell at your associates, belittle your staff, and we might even look the other way if you sexually harass someone. If you’ve a $10,000,000 book, we might even fire the woman for complaining as long as no one else knows about it yet. You’re all cringing right now because you all know that it just might happen (or you’re picturing the “asshole” you know), much as we desperately hope that things are better now than they were in the 60s. Or the 80s. Or last year.
So… a written No Assholes Policy: Still think it isn’t innovative? Right.
We founded Spark LLP because we were convinced there was a better way to practice law. We work very hard to make sure that nothing we do is done simply because that’s the way it has always been done. That does not only apply to the way we provide services to our clients, though that is a big focus. This philosophy permeates the culture at our firm. This philosophy is one of the main reasons that I laugh more now at work than I ever have in 18 years of practicing law.
Culture change. Happy people do good work. Happy lawyers provide better advice than grumpy ones. Happy employees are more loyal. The old firms do many things well, and the big firms are getting better at taking care of employees including employee lawyers. But what percentage of associates at BigLaw firms are truly happy?
Of course, changing culture and the importance of making those changes is about more than just happy lawyers (more on that in subsequent articles). Innovation in law firm culture is about approaching the business of law by examining what is truly important and what is not. Are the trappings of a fancy law firm important, or is a comfortable workspace for people more important? Is it important that “lawyers look like lawyers” or is it important that they be happy in whatever they choose to wear, and be treated respectfully by everyone regardless? Is it important to make a million a year, or to spend time travelling, relaxing, eating good food, or hanging out with your family?
The answers to these questions raise just a few of the issues that we wrestle with every day at Toronto’s most innovative law firm. If you have ideas, I would love to hear them. Feel free to drop me a line.
Jeff is a Co-Founder and Lawyer at Spark LLP. In addition to being a Bay Street refugee, Jeff is a commercial litigator, managing disputes for clients of all shapes and sizes.