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    The Courage to Fail

    Wisconsin attorneys are increasingly willing to stop saying “but we’ve always done it that way!” and instead try new business practices that carry risks but promise big rewards.

    George C. Brown

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    In his recent book on innovation and business strategy, Kaihan Krippendorf quotes innovators and leaders, including Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Douglas MacArthur, to drive home points about how to Outthink the Competition.

    The quotation that strikes at the heart of innovation and change in the legal profession, a profession that depends greatly on precedent and risk-prevention, is from Mohandas Gandhi. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    George C. Brownorg gbrown wisbar George C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    Change is difficult for most people. Whether at work or at home, routine and repetitive behaviors help us get through the day. Every day, we follow the same route to work and we have the same regular morning rituals. (I turn on my computer and while it is booting up, I change the message on my phone, unlock my desk drawers, and get a cup of coffee – sound familiar?)

    Change is especially difficult in a profession that relies as heavily on precedent as does the practice of law. I often hear lawyers talking about best practices, whether in the office, with a client, or in a courtroom. The courtroom is governed by court rules, and relations with clients are governed by the rules of professional responsibility; both sets of rules change slowly, if at all. But to rely on best practices in the business side of the practice is, for many attorneys, a sure way to fail. As many have said, best practices are the enemy of innovation. And in a world undergoing transformation on a level and at a pace that may be more dramatic than the Industrial Revolution, innovation might be the key not just to thriving, but to surviving.

    In this month’s issue, the lead article provides a glimpse of innovation in law practice. Not all the changes described involve the use of technology. In fact, the first innovator discussed is moving counter to the direction of technology.

    That is a common thread of these innovators. They are pushing against the grain of the common practices of the day. In a world increasingly affected by the low “touch” of technology, one attorney increasingly relies on high-touch customer service to grow his practice; in a world of conflict, other attorneys are focusing on educating their clients about choices they can make for themselves.

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    Do you know a legal innovator? Someone who finds new, creative solutions to problems? Are you one? Nominate them today! Visit ThatsaFineIdea.com.

    Two others whose stories you will read have taken the next step in leveraging technology to reduce costs and improve service. In a world dominated by paper files and wet signatures, one district attorney’s office is paperless and, using existing software, is fully integrated with law enforcement agencies to create a seamless system. Two other counties are combining technology and new theories about crime and offenders, with the goal of best using limited dollars to make the right decisions about those offenders and properly manage risk.

    Notice that I did not say eliminate or prevent risk. The willingness, properly managed, to take risks is a requirement of innovation. With that willingness to take risks comes the opportunity to fail. The most useful attitude toward failure was put into words by Thomas Edison, when he was offered sympathy concerning an invention’s lack of results. “Results!” he responded, “Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

    Help us tell the story of legal innovation in Wisconsin. Learn more at ThatsaFineIdea.com.




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