Laying the groundwork for a career change into legal innovation: 3 things you can do while still hitting your billables.
The legal innovation ecosystem continues to go from strength to strength. Lawyers looking for a career change have more opportunities than ever in areas such as legal operations, legal technology, legal transformation and legal project management.
For some, that’s where they definitely want to be in 5 years. Others, they’re not sure but want to keep their options open. Either way, if you’re a lawyer with any interest in potentially wading into the legal innovation world, what should you do now so that you can put your best foot forward if and when the time comes?
More importantly, what can you do? Spare time is a rare and precious resource as a lawyer, and I’m not here to tell you how to spend it. The good news is you don’t have to eat into your spare time at all. Here are 3 simple things you can focus on as part of your day-to-day lawyer job.
Be good at your current role.
“Yeah, Ben was never a great lawyer. I think that’s why he moved into legal ops, and now he’s sitting there telling us how to do our job.”
The legal industry is small. Ben’s going to have a hard time. Don’t be Ben. 
There’s another reason to focus on being the best lawyer you can be – it’s the most efficient way to develop many of the skills necessary for success as a legal innovation professional. Managing projects, appeasing difficult stakeholders, communicating effectively and other similar “soft skills” are as important in a legal innovation role as a lawyer role.
Thirdly, being good at lawyering means you’ll know what good lawyering looks like. Not every lawyer is a good lawyer. Being able to tell the difference will save you from being led down rabbit holes by well-meaning but mediocre lawyers that you’ll inevitably come across as part of your legal innovation work.
The concept of a retrospective is simple. At an appropriate juncture during or after a matter, get the team together to discuss what’s worked, what hasn’t worked and what learnings everyone can take away.
All lawyers should be doing this anyway, yet very few do, probably stemming from the fact most lawyers tend to be uncomfortable dissecting their own mistakes and shortcomings. The legal industry has an extremely low tolerance for errors of any sort. If you’ve ever seen a partner lose it over a typo in a footnote in an annexure, you know what I mean.
As a legal innovation professional, you’ll be doing lots of experimenting, testing, failing and learning. You’ll be navigating the unknown, making guesses, and taking wrong turns. The traditional lawyer mindset can be crippling in this context. On the one hand, it can result in analysis paralysis where the person avoids execution for fear of making a false step. On the other, it can inhibit learning as the person becomes entrenched in the belief that they are correct and that other people or factors must be the problem.
Retrospectives are one of the few opportunities lawyers have to reflect inwards and apply the critical lens so often powerfully aimed at others (e.g. opposing counsel, juniors) towards their own actions and decisions. Get comfortable with it. Funnily enough, it will also help you be a better lawyer.
It goes without saying that if you’re interested in a legal innovation role, you should get involved in legal innovation-related activities as much as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done, because you’re at 180% capacity and your body is urging you to sleep and leave the process mapping sessions, software pilots, and user interviews to somebody else.
Try your best to respond to any requests for lawyer involvement though, even if it’s to say you would really love to help but can’t. I’ll explain why.
Legal innovation professionals need lawyers in order to do research, testing and feedback. Given how notoriously busy lawyers are, and how fickle their calendars can be, getting lawyers’ attention is always a huge challenge. The vast majority of lawyers simply ignore requests from legal innovation teams. In this context, a lawyer who shows even the tiniest sign of interest is going to get noticed.
Getting noticed is important because this will help build your network in the legal innovation space, and I don’t need to tell you how important your network is when looking to change jobs. While you are a practising lawyer, legal innovation professionals need you far more than you need them. Use this leverage to your advantage.
Beyond these 3 basic things, there are of course a whole host of training programs, qualifications, communities, events and other things you can do to help transition into a legal innovation role. Lawtomated has put together an excellent and highly detailed guide, I’d highly recommend it. You can also follow pages such as Novum Global to keep up to date with current career opportunities in this space.
 Ben is a made-up person. But Bens do exist.
Author: Daniel Yim is an Australian lawyer and legal technology and transformation expert. His current work includes Sideline (a faster and easier way to run compares) and Bumpd (a not-for-profit organisation tackling the issue of pregnancy and parenting-related workplace discrimination). He previously worked at Gilbert + Tobin and Axiom.
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