Late last month, on behalf of Thomson Reuters, I had the privilege of facilitating a mini Hack-A-Thon with 30ish lawyers from Cassels Brock at their annual Lawyers Retreat. The idea was to take lawyers who are already out of the office and give them some time to reflect on their workflows, their technology use and how they can work to make their firm better.

Based around the premise of “don’t you wish the firm had an app for that?”, the lawyers used the time to first generate dozens of ideas using traditional Design Thinking methodologies like Crazy 8’s before collectively voting on one idea.  Once we had a selected idea, in teams by table, each group iterated on the idea as they built out prototypes.  Always up for sharing, the lawyers presented their prototypes to the room and then finally voted the winning solution or “app”.  As with many Hack-A-Thons, the decision to undertake and explore learning in a fast paced creative way can be more important than the outcome. The event, hosted by Mark Young and Tilly Gray, Cassels Brock Partners and leads at FourLines, demonstrated that if given the opportunity, lawyers can not only think creatively and come up with solutions but they can have fun in the process.  Given the rigid nature of practice, we tend to generalize that lawyers don’t “get it”.  Or that firms are not innovating quickly enough or are not thinking of ways to provide faster, better service to clients that is efficient and effective.  We believe that billing models and business models need to change and that once those elements are fixed, a “new law” will emerge. That may be true.  I do believe the industry will get there one day, likely soon. But until there is wholesale change which will only happen over time, firms need to provide opportunities, methodologies and frameworks to allow lawyers to step outside of their day to day pressures and think differently. Whether through a facilitated Hack-A-Thon, a Design Thinking Workshop, Personal Branding Session, Book Clubs, Coffee Chats or other means, it is vital to give smart, busy people a break from working in their typical ways and allows them a safe environment in which to experiment with thinking differently. It is in these breaks that true creativity and innovation can flourish.  Right now, as the industry is attempting to keep up with the pace of technology and generational differences, it needs to harness all of the creative power it can to bring about real change and identify new process management to the industry.

Processing power and speed have increased incrementally since 2007, competition for law firms and demand for legal services has been dramatically altered since 2008, and we find ourselves trying to change a centuries-old profession. It took years to get us here but we don’t have the luxury of spending as many years trying to change the culture.  Participating in the Hack-A-Thon, a fast paced, low fidelity, tactile event, reminded me how important it is to give people an opportunity to stop and think, to take a break from the files on their desks, to talk to their colleagues and to have some structured fun with pipe cleaners and ping pong balls.  Lawyers, technologists, administrators, management: whatever the role everyone has

something to contribute.  Every member of a firm has some creativity to bring to bear that can change process and workflows for the better, or to innovate on what came before, to iterate and move the profession forward into the new era of analytics, AI and beyond into the new reality of the post millennial practice of law.   The session also reminded me that segregating people into the roles they play, rather than the ideas they can contribute, diminishes the investments we make in people. Data and technology don’t make decisions; people do, and true insights into the flaws of existing process and our clients feel can only be articulated by people.

Congratulations to the lawyers who participated and the management at FourLines who had the bravery to bring a Hack-A-Thon to their annual lawyers retreat.  Let’s continue to find opportunities to give people across the industry pipe cleaners, Post It Notes and creative license. Who knows what problems we’ll solve next or how quickly!