Earlier this summer there was a news story about a couple in California that discovered a time capsule inside the wall of a bathroom they were remodeling.

There was a message written on the inside of the wall that said, “If you’re reading this, that means you’re remodeling the bathroom again. What’s wrong with the way we did it?!?!?”

It’s a funny story, but it also made me think about the feelings behind that message. The couple that wrote that message did so at a time when they were remodeling themselves. They were changing the work of a prior owner and at the same time looking forward and anticipating someone else undoing their work. What we’re building now, someone else will eventually come along and take down. Which is an interesting perspective to take when you’re taking on a project like that.

However, the message is not expressing curiousity about how the new owners are remodeling. It’s not interested in a new perspective or what potential there is to make the room even better. It’s defensive. Why are you changing our work? What’s wrong with our work?

I have worked at a few law firms now and that’s definitely a sentiment that I have encountered when looking to make changes.

What’s wrong with the way we do things now? Or sometimes you hear the expression, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

When I left a large firm after 6+ years as CMO, I was really curious to see what the person who came next would do. I had changed almost everything. The firm was very successful, so would the next person continue with generally the same approach or would they do as I did and chart a new path? It was no longer up to me and I really wanted to see what came next. But that’s not always how people see things.

The new person used video in different ways, brought out the personality of the firm in new ways and put his own stamp on things. He wasn’t fixing problems, he was improving and adding new ideas.

Looking at many of the innovative tools that are coming to the legal market today, I am struck by how many of them are opening up new possibilities vs. specifically fixing something that’s wrong. I think that’s exciting and I really love seeing what all of these new tools can do.

Often the current way of doing things works, and neither the clients or the lawyers are complaining or mentioning a pain point, but a new tool is faster, or produces the same output at a lower cost for clients or represents a simpler more elegant solution. How will that affect how law firms approach these projects? What is the best way to approach the communication of possible changes when the response could be, “what’s wrong with the way we do it?”

Sometimes the answer to that question is, nothing. Sometimes it’s about what’s possible today that wasn’t possible before. Sometimes it’s about the experience along the path to the same outcome. (This applies to both home renovations and law firms!) Sometimes it’s about unlocking future improvements and creating real options for yourself. In these cases, you must approach stakeholders differently.

Lawyers love solving problems. In my experience, they have always loved finding new tools that help solve one of their own problems. New tools that helped find relevant information in mountains of data were quickly adopted because they solved a problem. It’s exciting to see what’s becoming possible, but it requires people to think about these projects in a new way. Lawyers might not see what’s wrong with the way things are done now, but they will identify every single thing that’s wrong, or potentially wrong, with the new solution.

Most likely, there was nothing wrong with the way that couple did the bathroom renovation. The new owners just have a vision for something even better.