Innovation is one of those buzzwords that everyone espouses but it’s a process no one can pin down, least of all regulators.
Have you changed your breakfast cereal in recent years? Perhaps found a new route to work? Maybe started a yoga class?
Then you, my friend, may well be classed as innovative – at least according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Services Board.
The two organisations have jointly produced a piece of research that is 73 pages long but manages to say very little.
Part of the problem is that the definition of ‘innovation’ is so wide as to make it rather meaningless.
Offering a new service is regarded as innovation, as is the introduction of fixed fees, which in this day and age is about as innovative as sticking on a Phil Collins LP and sitting down with a glass of Blue Nun.
I’m not sure the results told us anything at all about how innovative legal services providers are being.
Sure, 80% of the 1,500 who responded said they had the infrastructure in place to change, but they were hardly likely to tell Mr Regulator any different. More instructive, perhaps, was that 25% of respondents have actually changed something, although given the scope of ‘change’ this still leaves plenty of head-scratching.
The obligatory ‘aren’t alternative business structures fantastic?’ line was included, with new entrants hailed for bringing that intangible air of ‘new’ that so many of them are keen to tell you about.
There’s no doubt that market disrupters have entered the sector with new ideas about technology and price, although it seems for some ABSs their innovation is in finding new ways to haemorrhage share value or make profits rapidly disappear.
Regulators are always keen to espouse the benefits of innovation: meeting unmet need, improving service, cutting costs.
But to what end is innovation for? Have legal services been made available for more people and businesses? Perhaps, but there’s little evidence of it. Is the standard of service better? No one seems to know. Has risk been reduced or eliminated? Not likely.
There’s nothing wrong with innovation, but market forces will make it happen, not regulators. It feels like this is something which someone has read about in Wired and decided would be a good idea.
Rather than spend so much time on these forgettable surveys, would it not be preferable to concentrate on easing the regulatory burdens that might be preventing innovation in the first place?
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor