Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

What does social business design mean for law firms?

by Penny Edwards

Last week, we hosted a well-attended private event as a follow-up to our “Social Networking for the Legal Profession” report. We were privileged to be joined by three of the contributors to the report, who shared with us and their colleagues in the legal profession some useful insights regarding their experience with social tools, and the ways those tools are providing simpler smarter social solutions to the everyday problems law firms are facing:

Lee kicked-off the session by outlining some of the key themes in the report, including what we mean by social networking and its adoption in the context of the firm, its relationship with social business design, and most importantly, what that concept means to law firms:   

  • Social networking: At its heart, social networking in the context of the firm is about expertise location, more effective collaboration and using people networks as information filters, not just socialising. They make it easier to find and use up-to-date information or resources to prepare an agreement, pitch, article, engagement letter, opinion, newsletter, and so on. They are key to reducing internal co-ordination costs and facilitating the development of new and better work processes. In addition, these networks can identify and make explicit the connective tissue of the firm, i.e. the way things actually get done.
  • Adoption: Despite the popularity of social networks and social tools in the consumer domain, adoption firms is still relatively immature.  Several firms are undertaking pilot projects, testing the use of tools in one area or or another.  But few have yet grasped the opportunity to mainstream this smarter way of working across the firm as a whole and start to shift towards what we regard as more productivity-based tools.
  • Social Business Design: New forms of social software are only pieces of the puzzle. The real value is in re-working processes to take advantage of networked collaboration and the power of collective intelligence, and better addressing motivations and incentives for sharing. We see this as a hybrid of technology, social science and conventional organisational design principles. 

In the report, we culminate with a discussion of the future vision of the firm (drawing on work by Richard Susskind and others), service innovation, lower cost operations and differentiating offerings from those of competitor firms. 

But the purpose of the Insight Event was to spark discussion about how we begin by solving today’s problems.  For us, that means looking into everyday issues and use cases that can be better addressed through the use of social tools.  It also means focusing on the needs of more mainstream (less technically inquisitive) adopters who make up the larger part of law firm (and organisations in general). To that end, we’ve been thinking a lot about behavioural transition strategies, and how these apply to law firms. These strategies take into account the things that people already do and look at how we can gently support them with new tools, without them having to learn any new language (like blogs and wikis) or technology-driven work flows. Even for the most reluctant adopters, there is great potential to use some of these tools in a very simple and often indirect way to be more connected and achieve some of their goals.
Mark, Steve and Sam provided us with many insightful examples and advice as to the steps they are taking in their firms to achieve progress.  Having worked with each of these and many other legal and professional services firms, we know first-hand the challenges firms are facing, and we are always working on new strategies to help transform the way things get done – just take a look at our case files and our approach to social business design, and talk to us about how to get started, perhaps with a workshop or a pilot project. 

One Response to What does social business design mean for law firms?

  1. By Nick Graham on September 14, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Really interesting event. How to get those less than keen on social media on board is, in my view, the big challenge – particular where they are the very people taking the strategic decisions. Interestingly many of questions were about how do you stop people doing stupid things with social technologies – which demonstrates the risk averse nature of most law firms.
    I wonder too whether the principles of social media design might also apply to whole interface of law-making, campaigning, the civil & criminal justice systems, users and consumers of law (all of us?) not just internal goings-on in law firms.
    Lee Bryant obviously on top of his game here.