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5 big questions on innovation

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Sam Miller, Senior Counsel , Dykema

Sam Miller, Senior Counsel

Sam Miller is a corporate and commercial transactional attorney, and is a member of Dykema Gossett PLLC’s corporate finance team, based in its Los Angeles office. Sam is…
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How is your team changing the game within your industry sector?

This is not an easy prospect by any means, particularly when working within an established and age-old profession. Change is seen as a threat to existing stakeholders in many cases, but law firms are beginning to realize that through pure market forces alone they will eventually be required to innovate in order to compete. I have found that having an international perspective on how things are done helps to instill a desire for change, not only in seeing how different work cultures operate, but also in appreciating the broad inter-connectivity that we now all experience,  the need to keep ahead of the pack to serve clients’ more diverse and ever more challenging expectations, and to compete effectively. Giving employees and partners the latitude to experiment with ideas and, perhaps more importantly instilling a culture of respect for different ideas and initiatives is a key element which law firms have traditionally struggled with given their hierarchical structures. To innovate, I believe that you need to  instill a framework for acceptance of differing and new ideas and the creative potential of your people. This  is a fundamental cornerstone, particularly for the legal profession, for building organizations which can successfully embrace change.


What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organization or industry sector?

I think it is traditional hierarchical, command and control type management structures.  It is the ability to instill a culture of acceptance and validation which largely produces growth and vitality: giving employees a feeling that they are valued and can make a difference to the firm, the work that it produces and to its clients leads to a ‘buy-in’ to the companies goals and objectives, and gives people the latitude to create and to produce efficiently. Stifling employees’ creative visions by instilling fear, judgement and autocratic work structures and styles does not augur well for making and retaining creative and exceptional lawyers, particularly  when the potential and tools for individual expression have never been more accessible.


How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized?

There have been a number of changes within the legal profession, but lawyers are always few among early adopters. There has been a move to a more inclusive management style, but the profession still has the aura of authority which stifles the production and contribution capacity of newer entrants to the profession. It is not uncommon for associates in a law firm to feel isolated and directionless in what they are doing, which forces them to be less engaging or productive. A number of the potentially disruptive start-ups in the online legal space have provided an outlet for young associates  to express their creativity by challenging the very structures that they studied for years to join. However, the profession  itself remains tied to historical ways of doing things, preserved to a large extent by protective regulation, which restricts a lot of creativity in not only the way that legal services are offered, priced or accessed, but also in the way that law firms can grow and be funded. On the technology side,  particularly the legal support or back office function, there has been a considerable degree of innovation, ranging from outsourcing more mundane or repetitive tasks such as due diligence and discovery, to document production and client access.


What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

I would say mobile, and cloud infrastructures and systems,  artificial intelligence and standardization technology. The latter two are particularly important in my profession, as they will serve to create  extensive opportunities to limit the costs of legal services and to create more certainty in legal outcomes.


Can you share a specific innovation strategy you’ve recently encountered which you find compelling?

I don’t believe that any one or more organizations have more of an innovation mindset than others. I think it is the people and their beliefs that are relevant here.  Living in California today, you feel the innovation buzz all around you, whether it be in Silicon Beach  or Valley, regardless of the enterprise or industry. There is a thirst for innovation which is hardly replicated elsewhere (with few exceptions, for example Israel). As an immigrant to the US, this is even more so apparent to me. A culture has been instilled and technology structures laid down allowing almost anyone to be a potential innovator if they put their minds to it, and which removes the older generation hierarchical structures which were premised upon limiting inclusiveness and a fear of failure. I believe that it is the fundamental American belief in freedom of expression and respect for the rights, and equal treatment of its people, mixed with access to technology, which has eventually resulted  in such a fertile ground for innovation. 

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