Apple’s recent unveiling of the new iPhone models and the Apple Watch was big news for sure. But the bigger news, arguably, is the announcement of Apple Pay – a single-touch, highly secure method of providing payment via your mobile device. In one fell swoop, Apple threw down the gauntlet, destroying several prominent Silicon Valley darlings and putting established behemoths on the defense, most notably eBay, which spun off its PayPal business in a move that analysts see as a way to improve the position of the payment company as competition begins to reach a rolling boil.

Unless we’re tied directly into the financial services industry, most of us don’t really think of the payment processing arena as remarkable or competitive. In fact, most of us probably don’t think about it much at all. But the truth is, this area is quite possibly the most rapidly changing market today, with constant innovation, evolving regulations and incredibly high financial stakes. After all, it’s an area that Google tried to conquer but ultimately lost. And if Google can’t stay on top with any certainty, then who can?

There is a clear analogy here for law firms. It’s a few clichés combined, but all pertinent: “Don’t rest on your laurels” and “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results,” to call out a couple. The truth is most people don’t think of the legal industry as being all that innovative, including those who practice law themselves. In a way, this is comforting. We can keep on moving forward just like we always have because, after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (I’m on a cliché roll.) But it’s in that mindset where real danger lies because, as Apple Pay has shown, all it takes is one innovator to disrupt the entire status quo.

Those who proactively disrupt the status quo set the standard, and those who set the standard have the opportunity to gain the largest market share. As legal marketers, we should be encouraging innovation from within. Not only is it good for business, but marketing solid key differentiators is more effective, and frankly easier, than marketing vague concepts. 

Law Firms as Innovators

While innovation is an intangible (and possible the business buzzword of the 21st century), it’s not incapable of study. Organizational theorist Geoffrey Moore has charted a graph of innovation referred to as the “Crossing the Chasm” diagram. It details the various stages a new idea most go through to become part of the norm. As you can see, it’s fraught with peril, as there are a couple of opportunities for a great idea to die before it has a chance to be embraced by the mainstream. 

Lawyers are notoriously risk-adverse, so the calculable odds of failure are enough to prevent a law firm from taking a major innovative leap of faith. While this is perfectly understandable from a self-preservation standpoint, it also limits any chance of redefining the practice of law, particularly the delivery and marketing of legal services. 

I’m not a business analyst, so I’m not here to pretend to know how law firms need to innovate. I’ll leave that to folks at organizations like the ReInvent Law Laboratory, a think tank devoted to addressing today’s legal industry challenges with tomorrow’s solutions. But I formerly covered the areas of legal technology and e-discovery as a reporter. In that role, I saw law firms and vendors redefining the practice of law through entrepreneurial thinking, alternative fee arrangements, technological automation and unique organizational structures, so I know the potential is there.

The point is that, if you don’t challenge the status quo and think of ways to disrupt the market, someone else will. They will “move the cheese,” and you will be left scrambling to find it. But you never will find it because, in this day and age, the cheese is always moving. Instead, you’ll just be a late adopter who buys into a new strategy after it’s already been leveraged a thousand times over. 

Leveraging Law Firm Innovation as Legal Marketers

So how does innovation influence legal marketing? The answer is rather simple. Your innovations are key differentiators, and it is through these differentiators that you can craft compelling and unique messages that will convince prospects that you are superior to your competitors. It’s the difference between saying you are an innovative, forward-thinking law firm and actually showing you are an innovative, forward-thinking law firm.

Let’s return to Apple Pay for a moment. Apple could easily just say, through its advertising and highly publicized public announcements, that it is the most innovative technology company on the face of the planet. And some of us might believe it, but those of us who are intelligent purchasers of consumer electronics and services might require a bit of proof before we make our purchases. Enter Apple Pay, a fairly ambitious, potentially game-changing technology. Apple Pay is concrete evidence of Apple’s ability to innovate, evidence that builds on top of a reputation for creating standard-setting technology. 

Now imagine if your law firm created an entirely new legal services delivery model or a new type of fee arrangement. This would give you, as a legal marketer, something very explicit that you could proactively develop a campaign around. That’s a lot more effective than promoting subjective concepts like “deep experience” and “aggressive counsel.”

So, while legal marketers don’t drive business innovation within their law firms, they should be in contact with management to gauge whether any innovation is in the works or if innovation is already being implemented. You never know whether an attorney might be developing something worth promoting, so it’s important to check with your key thought leaders about what market-disrupting tactics they might be employing. Once you’ve identified something, you can begin to develop the messaging and overarching campaign to leverage it to enhance awareness in the marketplace and drive new business.

Is your firm developing the legal equivalent of Apple Pay? Do you have thoughts on marketing innovations in the legal industry? Share your opinions in the comments section below or contact Terry M. Isner at