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Innovation starts with small changes

Takeaways from Leading with Transformation webinar

May 09, 2022

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innovation starts small

Small to medium firms face an increasingly complex competitive landscape — the race for talent and new clients, navigating rising costs, time pressures, and limited resources. Adding to these pressures are growing administrative burdens and demands to scale up through consolidation. This ever-changing environment requires new strategies and ways of winning.

So we turned to two law firm leaders, Roberto Pont, Chief Strategy & Operations Officer at McInnes Cooper and Dean Seiveno, Chief Enterprise Officer at Fennemore Craig to share how they transformed their firms to evolve and maintain their position in the legal market.

Recognized as one of the fastest growing law firms in 2021, Fennemore Craig has offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada and has over 200 lawyers. During the pandemic, the firm experienced significant growth through several lateral acquisitions and a merger.

McInnes Cooper, one of the top 25 law firms in Canada, has approximately 200 practicing attorneys that principally serve Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. They also have a presence across Canada and in the US.

The conversation is summarized below or you can watch the full webinar recording here.

leading with transformation webinar

Using strategic plans to transform

Instead of focusing on annual strategic plans, McInnes Cooper sets 5-year plans predicated off of three pillars:

  1. Business growth
  2. Engagement
  3. Innovation

Each pillar has their own goals to achieve and contains interdependencies — one pillar can not be achieved without the other.

From this concept came an advisory business McInnes Cooper called MC Advisory, a service founded to support legal talent with strategies, ideas, and opportunities that drive growth. The firm didn’t seek to replicate business that was already available in the market, but to compliment work that is being completed by their lawyers.

Dean echoes the importance of a firm’s strategic plan as the starting point of transformation. Law firms are going through a seismic shift in the way they operate. The traditional law firm has to change to compete.

One of the ways Fennmore is doing things differently is changing its leadership structure on the administrative side. They replaced the traditional COO role with a C-team — a group of members that function as that position. This approach has been successful for the firm over the last two years, as they are finding more collaboration and flexibility across the new C-team to accomplish the goals of the strategic plan.

Monitoring and measuring strategic plans is also key. Once goals are set, they should be reviewed every year to see if they have been accomplished, and if not, why not. Realigning goals to match up with the company’s strategic plan and ensuring every individual in the company moves in the same direction as these goals will lead to the change sought after.

Transferring lessons learned from The Big 4 to law firms

Having previously supported KPMG’s Global Advisory business, as well as KPMG Canada’s Management Consulting practice, Roberto spoke about how his experience at The Big 4 informed his thinking at McInnes Cooper.

His time with The Big 4 would not be influential in legal transformation, if the law firm itself is not ready for transformation. From his perspective, law firms can be antiquated in their approach to services. People tend to work individually and complete individual pieces of work. Firms would benefit from understanding what brings people together as a value proposition and as a law firm. Having this unified front positions firms for effective transformation.

Enhanced efficiency

At the start of the pandemic, Fennemore lost a second knowledge management staff member in their library. Dean reached out to LAC to fill that gap and complete the heavy lifting of legal research.

LAC also took on responsibilities related to project and library management, budgeting, training, and mentoring assistant librarians as well as other tasks when Fennormore acquired or brought on other offices. By bridging support gaps and streamlining operations, LAC was able to ease the library’s workload burden, increase consistency, and prevent disruption or negative impact on the firm’s culture or processes.

Innovation impact on firms

Dean notes that culture is really tied into leadership. Change is not possible without buy-in from the firm. Part of that ties into the strategic plan. Leadership needs to be creative and understand the financials, strategic initiatives, and processes.

Impact on firm culture is going to be different based on what you do. There are projects where the goal is to impact firm culture. Forcing a firm to grow and stretch is not a bad thing.

McInnes Cooper brought accountability into the innovative approach to ensure the right people were working on transformation initiatives. With accountability, there were never good or bad consequences, but instead successes and learnings.

Overcoming innovation challenges

When it comes to tackling innovation challenges at Fennemore, Dean says one of the mantras the firm follows is “know who you are.” Every firm has different clients, services, and needs. Start with an understanding of where your firm’s strengths lie and how to capitalize on them.

“Success breeds success”, says Dean. The more the wheel starts to turn, the easier the process becomes. It also works to change the culture. Don’t be afraid to make little changes to get the process started.

Roberto added that innovation is not about creating the next Uber for legal services. Change can be something small — from how things are done day-to-day to process improvements. Making small, realistic changes can create cumulative impacts that drive bigger ones. Innovation rarely happens when someone is sitting in their own box, but when you are working with an external party, like clients.

Innovation challenges will always be present and new ones will manifest. To address this, McInnes Cooper aims to remain consistent and accountable. The accountability model breeds trust. Their innovation plan is very open and transparent to people. Their definition of innovation, their budget, and how staff members can contribute ideas is all clearly communicated and readily available. This has resulted in a positive impact for generating new ideas.

Path to innovation

Having “a seat at the table” is where the path to innovation starts for Dean. His position has allowed him to give input, be a good salesperson, and understand the firm dynamics and impact. Being able to articulate how you are going to do something, why, and starting small are the stepping stones to change.

At McInnes Cooper, the path to innovation needs to have a bit of inspiration. Roberto suggests that inspiration can help others see where the plan is trying to go. Being able to start small, showcase examples, and put in the work. Small successes, and even learning opportunities to develop insights, can create a compelling story that generates inspiration.

To that note, Dean highlights that lessons learned from every project, no matter the results, have to be incorporated into everything you do. They will lead to fresh ideas and continue innovation and improvements in the future.

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