An often underestimated part of the innovation process, especially within law departments, is the messaging, presentation, and selling of innovation projects, programs, and portfolios to general counsel and other decisionmakers in law departments. I wrote about this topic in my book, Successful Innovation Outcomes in Law: A Practical Guide for Law Firms, Law Departments and Other Legal Organizations (available on Amazon).
The topic is so important that I’m including messaging points for innovation leaders a key part of my deliverables for my Legal Innovation as a Service offerings for law departments only.
And it’s also important enough that I’ve decided to share a version of Chapter 41 of my book for free in this blog post. You can easily adapt the principles if you are a law firm innovation leader.
Selling to GCs and Other Decisionmakers
It’s worth repeating that several years ago, a survey of general counsels asked what innovation their outside counsel had brought to them. The top answer was “none.”
In one sense, the threshold for law department innovation efforts (internal or external) is quite low and the opportunity to differentiate from other law departments is there for the taking. In another sense, however, the answer illustrates the desire of in-house counsel to see their outside law firms take the lead in innovation and technology initiatives and their disappointment with the perceived lack of leadership. In no small part, these factors are driving the “early adopter” law departments to move innovation inside their departments and not leave it to outside law firms who have failed to produce.
For in-house counsel, there is a sharp disconnect between what what they request and what outside law firms seem to hear. In-house counsel often tell me about asking for simple email newsletters from outside counsel that, rather than summarize new cases or laws, offer a firms’s perspectives and insights and suggest practical action steps. Then they say, “And we never got them.”
A legal technology “solution” that outside counsel like to advocate is “contract lifecycle management.” Yes, there is a need, but those projects are not at the top of the in-house priority list, are nightmarishly complex to implement, and involve many moving parts in the entire corporation.
If, instead, the innovation process produced a pilot project of one of the three simple ideas I suggested in Chapter 42 (i.e., a dashboard of highly relevant data, an expertise locator, or a list of places where routine legal review could be eliminated), you would have delighted in-house counsel and their business clients. Each of these addresses pain points, solves business problems, and are easy experiments. Each of these also illustrates how well you have listened and suggested some options that have worked elsewhere, not just tried to sell a pre-conceived innovation “solution.” And they provide value to the business client and help them get their jobs done.
Many lawyers hate to “sell.” Most in-house counsel hate to be “sold to.” THe good news is that pitching innovation efforts should not involve selling in the classic sense. It should consist of many of your best lawyering skills: asking good questions, active listening, investigating, getting to the core problem, looking at options, and patience. You want to understand what the client wants before you jump in with a solution.
In the innovation process, there are three steps, as I have mentioned: why, what, and how. The sequence is to start with why, move to what, and, only at the very end, look at the how. Resisting the urge to move too quickly to the how stage plays a key role in success.
While there are many definitions of innovation, most of them emphasize “customer-focused” or “customer-centered” problem solving. My focus is always on customer outcomes. Your client has the problem to solve. Your goal, and your role, are to help your client solve their problem and eliminate their pains and achieve their gains.
The client does not want you to swoop in and save the day. You can do that when handling important legal work. Instead, clients want to be the heroes of their own innovation stories. They want a guide with a plan to help them win the prize while avoiding disaster. Think Yoda, not Superman.
With that in mind, what approaches work best when discussing innovation projects or processes with general counsel and other decisionmakers?
1. Bring it Up First. Since outside firms are known for NOT bringing innovation ideas to corporate counsel, simply initiating the conversation might be a differentiator for you. The same approach applies to in-house innovation leaders. You were delegating the innovation portfolio because your general counsel whats you to take the initiative and bring your ideas to them. If you put innovation in the context of improving the relationship with your business owners and executive team, controlling or cutting legal costs, or a new benefit for key teams, you will have a winning combination.
2. Talk to the Real Decisionmakers. General counsel often lead and drive department innovation and select the winning projects to carry forward. However, they typically delegate the details to the innovation team or, increasingly, their chief of staff. To move specific efforts forward you will need to identify and engage with the right people in leadership. We see more law departments with roles like Chief Innovation Officer than ever before.
3. Use the Value Proposition Canvas. A great, simple tool to use is something called the Value Proposition Canvas, described in more detail in Chapter 36. It gives you a quick, visual way to map out the client’s problem, the pains the clients hope to alleviate or eliminate, and the gains they want to achieve. You can then match those items with the project or approach you suggest. For example, a client’s problem might be that they don’t know who the subject matter experts in the law department are for certain issues. Their pains might include not knowing there was someone who could answer their question off the top of her head or mismatching people to projects. The hoped-for gains might be getting the right work to the right people or creating subject matter teams. After making the diagnosis, you can match the proposed solution (expert locator app) or process (design and prototyping sprint) and its pains solved and gains achieved with the desired result and make a compelling case to move forward.
4. Pitch Pilots, Not Products. Upwards of 90% of innovation projects fail or drastically change from the initial concept. That’s a good thing. It’s part of the innovation and start-up process. The more pilots, the better. Pilots give you and the client prototypes to test, examples of possible projects to share with others, and quick wins that build momentum.
5. Understand Internal Goals and Objectives. In-house counsel and law departments have annual objectives and goals. Understand what those are and make the part of the equation. Visible achievement of annual goals will always be a desired gain for any decisionmaker.
6. Bring the Whole Team. Get the right teams talking, especially in panel convergence presentations. If a law firm has a Chief Innovation Officer or innovation leader, they will want to meet and talk with their counterparts in law departments. Your decisionmaker will want you to be able to answer expected questions or bring the people who can to the meeting with you.
7. Get in Some Reps.It will take some time and practice to learn the best pitches, find the appropriate language, and build relationships. You will not be perfect at it from the start, nor should you expect to be. Like exercise, you need to get in some reps to get better.
Innovation initiatives from within law departments are moving quickly from nice-to-have to must-have. General counsel want help to show innovation results and meet corporate and department goals and objectives. General counsel will be looking for guides who give them plans to achieve what they need and still remain the heroes of their own stories. If you can provide that, in their language and in the language of business, you will cement long-term relationships and get the approvals you want for your best projects and initiatives
PRO TIP: Persuading a general counsel on innovation efforts requires special approaches and language, but these can be learned.
If you like this excerpt, I encourage you to buy the book on Amazon and to check out my Legal Innovation as a Service offering (for law departments only).
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (https://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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