What are the sources of new ideas for individual law departments?
Necessity, a law department’s mother of invention coming up with a new solution to a festering problem, must lead as the most frequent source of innovation. “Let’s assign a lawyer to Major Unit and base her there.” “Let’s create a trademark request form for Marketing.” “Let’s retain a part-time ex-employee, because Chris really knew this stuff.” “Not invented here” means invented here takes priority as the most common source of innovation.
Second, the company, I suspect forces the law department to adopt a new practice (balanced scorecard, activity-based costing, mid-year reviews, high potential programs, diversity) or makes it possible for the department to seize an idea (Six Sigma, quality circles, procurement discipline).
In third place as the source of new management ideas, I would think would be senior management reading or hearing an idea, such as from an article that describes document assembly, a conference panel on staffing lawyers overseas, or a general counsel roundtable discussion on fitness centers (See my posts on February 20, 2005 on the GC Roundtable and groups for general counsel). It is hard to adopt practices that others have created over time, but I still suspect that the third most common spring of innovation comes from these external sources.
Fourth, sadly, consultants. The low ranking results not so much from any ineffectiveness of consultants at cross-pollinating ideas or inventing new solutions, but from the infrequency with which law departments retain consultants.
[See my posts on April 5 regarding law department size and innovation and May 4, 2005 on law firms not being innovative.]