How to turn creativity into law firm growth

The increasing need for creative skills is highlighted in a growing number of studies that demonstrate a definite connection between creativity and business results. So why are these skills undervalued in law firms?

By Anna Marra,  Project Manager, Consultant and Trainer 

Defined by Business Insider as “the industry’s equivalent of the Oscars,” Cannes Lions has been championing creativity since 1954. Today it’s considered the world’s biggest festival and awards for the creative and marketing communications, entertainment, design, and tech industries. But, what is the relation between this hub for big ideas and the legal sector?

The legal business and the legal industry as a whole are changing. Today the legal industry is applying new technologies and experimenting with innovative processes and project methodologies based on efficiency, quality and profitability. Legal project management (LPM) is a big part of the change as it shifts from the traditional case management perspective to the project management approach where balancing scope, cost, time, and risks to achieve efficiency, drive profit and build a new customer relationship.

Having taught LPM since 2011, and as a Councilor of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM), I’ve heard many opinions on the matter. It calls my attention that one frequent opinion is that LPM is considered the equivalent to the Taylorism approach to the legal mandate. Frederick Taylor, the father of the scientific management (a term which, curiously, was popularized by an attorney), was an American engineer who sought to improve manufacturing operations by applying scientific methods to the development of processes. He promoted the idea that division of labor was key. This method aims at breaking down working procedures into simple and routine tasks to reduce labor cost, eliminate unnecessary tasks and speed up the work.

But there are many reasons I can think of why LPM can’t be considered the legal version of scientific management, and the most important is that Taylorism, which is rigid, is not entirely relevant in today’s fast-changing marketplace. Legal project management is “a force for change”, as Julius Reeves from Totum Partners, recently defined it in his article “Legal Project Management is A Force For Change”.

Legal project management as a driver of change

LPM is a problem-solving approach or, I might even say, a value-capturing approach based on “a wild mind and a disciplined eye” —a quote I like to borrow from the American poet Dorothy Parker.

Creativity is not only a need that we have as human beings; it is a passport for speeding up the human experience.

The core of project management is not found in the act of setting tasks, roles or responsibilities —which is obviously a consequence and an output—but in the creativity craving, regardless of where it is applied.

It is not by accident that the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” The idea of creating value for the client is a human-centric approach, where users’ desires, expectations, needs and goals are first identified, and then addressed, in order to design and develop solutions. The co-creative and collaborative nature of project management improves legal performances and builds understanding among all parties involved in the project, which impacts the quality of both legal delivery and customer relationships.

Creativity is not only a need that we have as human beings; it is a passport for speeding up the human experience. As LPM is rethinking and redesigning the stakeholder experience in the legal sector, it needs creativity to capture value and reshape the legal industry.

Only 40 per cent of respondents said they valued creativity, which is one of the “4C´s” of 21st century learning skills, along with communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Disappointingly, creativity is undervalued in law firms. A study conducted and released by the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and InfoTrack in September 2017, 21st Century Thinking at Australasian Law Firmsrevealed that Australian law firms need to improve their capacity for fostering creative thinking to compete in the new legal profession. Only 40 percent of respondents (114 law firms from Australia and New Zealand) said they valued creativity, which is one of the “four C’s” of 21st-century learning skills, along with communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Even if firms are aware of the benefits of an innovative and creative mind, they still do not see the benefit of investing in creativity and do not perceive creativity as a driver of change.

Creativity, the key to boost performance and outperform peer firms

The poor value law firms give to creativity is quite widespread, even if the connection between creativity and performance has been proven in many other sectors. According to the “Future of Jobs” report compiled by the World Economic Forum, which surveyed top human resources and strategy officers from global companies, by 2020 creativity will be one of the top three most in-demand job skills, along with complex problem-solving and critical thinking.

The increasing need for creative skills was also highlighted in a recent research study by McKinsey that shows a definite connection between creativity and business results. In the article “Creativity’s bottom line: how winning companies turn creativity into business value and growth,” Marc Brodherson, Jason Heller, Jesko Perry and David Remley stated that companies with a solid track record of creative award wins have superior financial performance.

To respond to the need for a quantitative metric that could be used to examine the connection between creativity and business performance, McKinsey has developed the Award Creativity Score (ACS), an index based on the prestigious Cannes Lions awards, that weighs three factors: 1. the total number of Lions won by each company between 2001 and 2016, with more points assigned for the most prestigious awards; 2. the breadth of categories represented; and 3) consistency over time, based on the number of years a company has been recognized.

The McKinsey team found that the most creative companies outperform peer firms on two key business metrics: financial performance and innovation (according to the McKinsey’s Innovation Score). Here are the numbers:

  • 67 percent had above-average organic revenue growth
  • 70 percent had an above-average total return to shareholders (TRS)
  • 74 percent had above-average net enterprise value or NEV/forward EBITDA)

Four practices to free innate creativity and turn it into value

The McKinsey research highlights that top-performing companies use four key management practices to turn creativity into value:

  • Make creativity a day-to-day part of the business by establishing a mindset that prioritizes creativity and innovation in everyday practices.
  • Observe the customer, understand him or her and become his or her fan.
  • Feed the need for speed in decision-making and encourage risk-taking.
  • Adapt or die; believe in ongoing evolution.

Anna MarraAnna Marra is a PM trainer and consultant for private and public organizations. Anna was a pioneer in proposing the discipline of Legal Project Management to improve performances in law firms and in-house legal departments. In 2017 she became Councilor of the LPM Global Advisory Council of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM). Presently she is IILPM Accredited Training Provider (ATP). Anna is author of various publications on legal project management, corporate social responsibility, and strategy for law firms.

Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.