First, Align All the LawyersBy
Many companies seeking innovation overlook their own internal barriers to innovation success. One of the biggest barriers can be their own attorneys. Lawyers are needed for many aspects of innovation, such as drafting the agreements with partners in open innovation and protecting IP with patents, trademarks, and other intellectual assets. The skill of a good lawyer who understands the business and its needs will often make the difference between success and disaster. But frequently non-lawyers fail to recognize how broad the spectrum of lawyer quality is and how non-standardized and diverse the practice of law can be. People with a technical or financial background, who are used to seeking and finding “correct answers” in problems of math, engineering, and accounting, might not recognize how subjective and variable in style and outcome the work of lawyers can be. More specifically, they might not recognize how ridiculous and counterproductive the work of their attorneys is.
In working with various companies seeking to promote innovation, I’ve sometimes watched in horror as a single misguided attorney not only impedes deals but even destroys relationships as he or she seeks short-term gains that destroy the long-term potential in a relationship. The tone of an attorney’s work can exude distrust and harshness at a time when trust and friendship needs to be built. Opportunities can be destroyed by an attorney urging the client to twist the screws to extort unreasonable gains from a potential partner, by pushing for extreme terms, by treating every encounter with the outside world or with inside employees as an adversarial relationship to be won at all costs. I’ve seen good innovators walk away from partnerships or even from their own companies through the antics of poor lawyers.
When it comes to innovation and partnerships, managers must not assume that their legal team know what they are doing (in spite of genuine excellence in the letter of the law), and instead must take steps to educate the attorneys about the relationships they wish to build, the tone they wish to convey, and the long-term goals they seek. Innovation success may require aligning your legal team with the not only the business goals but the principles to be pursued, the relationships to be strengthened and the spirit and character they wish to show.
Don’t take Shakespearean extremes. Rather, first simply align all you lawyers. Then you’ll be a little more likely to overcome innovation fatigue.