Skunk Works for Lawfirms?

Innovation is essential for success in any industry, but the legal sector can present unique challenges when it comes to being innovative in-house.
The traditional structure of law firms and legal departments, combined with risk-averse lawyers and a lack of commitment to out-of-the-box thinking, can make it difficult for these entities to develop and evaluate new tools and software services.

One potential solution to this challenge is the creation of a separate unit within law firms or legal departments dedicated to innovation.
This unit would be staffed by innovative lawyers, software developers, and business developers who would work together to develop and evaluate new tools and services.
This approach is modeled after the Skunk Works unit of Lockheed Corporation, which was responsible for developing some of the most innovative and successful military aircraft in history, including the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter.

Skunk Works was established in 1943 by engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, who was known for his innovative designs and unconventional approach to aircraft development. Skunk Works was unique in several ways.
The unit was kept separate from Lockheed’s main facilities and had its own budget, resources, and management structure. This allowed Skunk Works to operate with greater flexibility and freedom than other parts of the company. Skunk Works also had a culture that rewarded risk-taking, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking, which helped drive the development of groundbreaking technologies. (There is a really good book about Skunk Works)

Applying the Skunk Works model to law firms and legal departments could help them become more agile, responsive, and innovative. By creating a separate unit dedicated to innovation, law firms and legal departments can free up resources and focus on developing and testing new tools and services without the constraints of the traditional legal structure.

But do law firms need so many resources at all? Absolutely!

At the latest since the release of ChatGPT-3, it should be clear to everyone in legal services that technology (especially with artificial intelligence) will fundamentally change legal advice, and this will happen much faster than many “experts” predicted even recently.
Intensive focus on applications, cloud services and implementation options for such software solutions is therefore, in my view, extremely important for law firms of all sizes.
The speed with which “legaltech” is evolving and changing also requires not only a dedicated unit for such topics, but also a special agile “try-fail-repeat” mentality for this group.
That’s why I find the “Skunk Works” approach so interesting to law firms as well.

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)