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There is still significant potential for change within the legal services sector
A joint Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Legal Services Board (LSB) survey has found that 80% of practices feel they have the management structure to make innovation possible. The survey, which focused on understanding the nature of innovation in legal services alongside the key barriers and enablers of change, was conducted across 1500 firms through a mix of in-depth interviews and telephone surveys.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, solicitors firms were found to be the most innovative in terms of both managerial and organisational change. Across the board, around 40% of firms have steps in place to promote the development of new ideas and this has led to improvements in extending service range, improving quality and attracting new clients. The survey also demonstrates that Alternative Business Structures (ABS), which were introduced with a view to improving innovation and diversity, are successfully meeting that ambition with ABS solicitors being some 14% more likely to introduce new legal services.
In conducting their research, the report’s authors adopted a view of innovation which included not only the development of new or improved services but also new or improved ways of delivering existing services. This viewpoint is key to the success or otherwise of transforming to an innovation-based culture in which the entire organisation seeks to create game changing solutions for clients. True innovation is not simply about products or services but encompasses processes, attitudes, working methodologies and outlook. Interestingly, the report’s authors found that whilst barristers saw innovation as a chance to improve client focus and access, solicitors were more concerned with improving case management and client contact through electronic means.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in a highly regulated environment, legislation and regulation were cited as key barriers to innovation; although interestingly they were also cited as key drivers of innovation. The legislation challenge is something which we regularly come across in a wide range of business sectors. In fact, in the current environment it is hard to find a single business sector which does not have to operate within a regulatory framework of one kind or another. But regulation is only one aspect of any business which has multiple relationships with clients, suppliers and with third parties. It is those organisations which can operate within a regulatory framework and still look to work in an agile manner, to collaborate and to create genuine solutions that will be the market leaders.
Although created for the legal sector, the report contains much which would be of benefit to other business sectors. For example, the importance of external as well as internal collaboration, the way in which multifunctional teams can aid knowledge transformation, and the need for strong leadership in shaping innovation strategy. The importance of developing staff in order that they may play their part in the creation of innovative products, services and processes is also highlighted.
Although 80% of firms consider they have the leadership and structure in place to support innovation, only some 25% of firms have actually taken steps to change or significantly alter the way they deliver services over the last three years. This indicates that there is still significant potential for change within the legal services sector and, more worryingly, that there is a significant opportunity for potential disruptors to take market share. That firms are talking about innovation is a positive step, but unless and until they step up and embed a culture of innovation within their firms the benefits which innovation can bring will remain unrealised.