Deaths, Small Law Firms, Technology

Size Matters: Innovate

Last week was a sad time for America. People mourned the loss of a visionary, Steve Jobs. I cannot even tell you how many times I heard people talk about his celebrated 2005 Stanford graduation speech. It is without question that Jobs was a genius and we will never know what he could have created with more time. The depth of people’s reactions, however, suggests that we were mourning something more than the loss of a great man. We are, perhaps, mourning the loss of American innovation.

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, copy ’em. Or at least that is what I am saying now. And luckily, I came across a blog post by Larry Bodine about what lawyers, particularly small-firm lawyers, can learn from Jobs….

(1) Develop a niche.

I think I have said enough about this.

(2) The way you do something is more important than what you do.

How so? According to Bodine, “[l]awyers should learn from the corporate world: present or package what you do in a new way.”

(3) Personalize the brand.

A lawyer must realize that he or she is a brand. Clients don’t hire law firms – they hire lawyers. Every time Apple introduced something new, it was Steve Jobs presenting it on a big stage. Similarly, lawyers should get in front of audiences, make presentations on webinars and talk to news reporters. Clients want to find a lawyer they know, trust and like, and lawyers must be easily found by being in the public eye.

Want more proof that personal branding is important? Two words: Kris Jenner. Remember when the old girl wanted to go back to being called Kris Kardashian because her girls had established such a strong brand? That shows that personal branding is key. After all, this is the woman who built an empire on false lashes, hair extensions, and some junk in the trunk.

(4) Don’t just compete, strive to make your competition obsolete.

Per Bodine, “[l]awyers should similarly look for new ways to provide service and charge for it that leapfrog ahead of what other law firms are doing.”

(5) Constantly Adapt.

Most important for us small-firm lawyers, Bodine offers this sage advice:

Jobs competed with some of the largest corporations on the planet, just as small-firm lawyers compete with the AmLaw 100. Being small gave Jobs the advantage of being nimble. While Microsoft slavishly kept releasing clunky new versions of Windows, which copied features from the Apple OS, Jobs pioneered cloud computing. This year more people will access the Web with a smart phone than with a computer, thanks to Steve Jobs’ ability to change ahead of the times. Lawyers should similarly look over the horizon and give clients today what they hope to have next year.

As Bodine points out, there is a lot that lawyers can learn from Steve Jobs. There is another important lesson in his passing. Unfortunately, very few, if any of us, will be the next Steve Jobs. That, however, is okay. Luckily, innovation does not need to be synonymous with creative genius. Indeed, while Jobs may be the symbol of American innovation, he need not be the only image.

A recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business explains that innovation and creativity are not necessarily the same thing. “People tend to think that being innovative means being creative,” says Andrew Razeghi, a lecturer at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, who has written on the topic. “Some folks are more creative than others. But whereas creativity is more how you think, innovation is more how you act and behave, and those behaviors can definitely be learned.”

According to the article, “learning” innovation requires two things. First, listen to your clients’ needs and use that to anticipate and serve their future needs. Second, create the right work environment that “encourag[es] employees to be passionate, risk-tolerant and open to inspiration from anywhere.”

Let’s do our best to honor Steve Jobs by doing our part to inspire and embody the spirit of innovation — black mock-turtleneck optional.

Earlier: Notes on the Passing of Steve Jobs

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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