21 Sep 2018

CU LAB: What stops a legal adviser from being a legalpreneur?

There are elements of lawyers' training that can inhibit innovation, but Samy Mansour says there are ways around them.

Related Knowledge

Get in Touch

Get in touch information is loading


Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.


There's a real spectrum amongst in-house legal teams and across lawyers as to the degree of innovation that they do demonstrate but to answer that question, generally speaking, two stereotypes of lawyers do inhibit the ability for them to be truly innovative.

One is that they are largely precedent driver and that's a source of both training and a source of practice.  While it's really good in terms of preparing legal advice when it comes to service delivery and product delivery that's not an ideal and in fact when we look at the way in which clients respond to that clients are looking to challenge precedent and to challenge preconceived notions and ideas. 

The second is that while good commercial lawyers think about risk and manage risk effectively, failure is a different concept – failure is a source of embarrassment and shame.  When we look at our truly innovative clients, failure is an opportunity, not just an ever-present danger, and they accept that as part of a healthy innovation process, failing may actually be an option.  To use some of the language adopted by a previous leader of the Tata Group, failure is a gold mine, it's an opportunity to learn from those experiences – and you won't get too many lawyers talking like that. 

What can lawyers do to change the stereotypes?

While there's a spectrum of opportunities for in-house legal counsel, there are a few tips that can help manage those two stereotypes, right from how to begin innovation and where to test it to how to apply it. 

The first is to start off with a need – don't start off with a cool idea – and work at that need.  What are the clients' needs, what are clients telling you? For in-house business teams for example, what is the business unit telling you that they need?

Number two is to map out the business unit's process in engaging with the legal function.  Is every step necessary and, if it's not necessary, why is it there? Is there a better way of doing things? 

Number three is to then test that idea with a business unit.  Don't rush into a conclusion as to what you or the business unit think is the best idea, and avoid what lawyers do, which is to presume a number of things that go behind that innovation. Test that idea using what's called a minimum viable product: what's the absolute minimum that you can do to check with the business unit or the team to discover whether or not your idea is a good one and it meets their particular needs and requirements.