Well, you’re right. It does require quite a feat of mental gymnastics to picture comedian Chris Rock at home in the practice of law. But he uses a technique that most lawyers could profit by using, too.
In Rock’s world, the successful comedian’s stock in trade is new ideas (emphasis on new). So he has found a means to give new jokes and routines a test run or two before betting his career on them. Take a look at Harvard Business Review contributor Peter Sims’ discussion of Rock’s creative process.
How might you try something new at an off-off-off Broadway venue before betting the firm on it? Many law firms reject opportunities to launch profitable innovation because they perceive there is too great a risk … that they must throw out the old entirely before bringing in the new. Well, how about testing out your new idea one client at a time? You might even tell the client it is an experiment, recruiting them to advocate for your attempts at service improvement by pledging to give you honest, perhaps even painful, feedback. You’d be surprised at how many corporate clients see innovation as a good thing!
The truth is, much innovation in law firms occurs this way. Some lawyer or practice group slips under the radar with a concept so weird it would never have been approved, if approval was sought. Over time, the idea takes root. Someone notices a sizable blip in profits. An inquiry is made. Ah HA! Suddenly that weird little idea becomes “the way we do things around here.”
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, among the first inductees to the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame and Adjunct at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.