1. What Makes an Innovative Lawyer?

  • Mastery of the law and client
  • Influence used well with clients, peers and society
  • Boldness to stand up for ethics and the rule of law and a willingness to try new things
  • Difference of thinking, ideas and approaches

We formulated this list of four attributes to describe an innovative lawyer in 2009, when we examined how lawyers were helping to solve the complex problems generated by the credit crisis and following recession. Since then, the attributes have remained largely constant. It goes without saying that an innovative lawyer must first be an excellent one, with a mastery of the law and client that is akin to a concert pianist. A performer who not only knows the notes and the instrument, but can create a symphony. The second attribute is the ability to influence people and situations, to take control and be a calm head in the storm. Or alternatively to be the conductor of an orchestra of different stakeholders and many moving parts.

These two attributes, mastery and influence, could be said to be the hallmarks of an excellent lawyer. They do not necessarily make for an innovative one.

What we tend to see is that lawyers who innovate are bold and different – the last two attributes in the framework. What do we mean by that? Lawyers’ as a professional class are not known for being bold and the profession laments a lack of diversity. But we do see that the lawyers who innovate have the capacity to take unusual risks that pay off and can also think laterally. They have a spark that makes them willing to try something new whilst having the ability to join the dots between two different ideas or specialist areas of expertise or industries. They have a horizontal rather than a vertical view.

The challenge for most law firms and in-house legal departments is how to encourage lawyers to have these attributes and see them as positives in what is still largely a risk-averse, conservative profession? But the evidence we see from having taken a deep dive into the backgrounds of hundreds of innovative lawyers for our FT reports shows that when lawyers do exhibit these traits, they can achieve extraordinary results for their clients, government and society.