When it Comes to Legal Technology Innovation, Which Type of Townsperson Are You?

The new frontier of legal technology harkens back to an old theme. The theme? That of western towns and dusty one-road main streets with tall false-fronts in front of swing-door saloons. Where rough and rowdy cowboys traveling from place to place giddyup through town on their way to distant lands.

No town sprung up from a void however. Each was built as part of a process. A process of discovery, of experimentation, of trying new things and finding out what doesn’t work, what does work, and how to fail forward and optimize from there. Each process involved different types of people to make it come to fruition.

Much like the history of any business, each town represents its own story of triumph and transformation.

There are three types of people that made up those old western towns. Just like today there are three types of people that make up this new frontier of legal technology. Those people include the pioneers, the settlers and the town planners.


“We have a set of people, pioneers, a little bit like the gold rush, who zip out there, start digging in the ground and creating new things,” Leading Edge Forum senior researcher and advisor Bill Murray says.  

These pioneers have a very entrepreneurial mindset.

Just like when Lewis and Clark explored the vast wilderness of the western United States, not quite knowing what they’d find over that next mountain range, pioneers are the explorers. They’re the innovators, the experimenters, the founders of next big ideas, the finders of hot new legal technology. They’re the creators of startup apps we now all use. You need these visionaries exploring new products, new services, new markets, new tech, Murray mentions.


No – we’re not talking about the people who settle for someone way beneath them in a relationship here! In this town, the settlers might have different attributes, but they’re equally important to our pioneers.

The settlers are the people who come next. They’re the people who build on the foundations the pioneers have established. They grow the town of your legal technology to the next phase in development and serve as an essential bridge between what Allstate’s Olga Castaneda refers to as your “change-champions” and the more risk averse types of folks.

Town Planners

Once your town – or your legal technology – has been established by the pioneers and nurtured to the next stage of its maturity by the settlers, it’s time to bring in your town planners. These are the people who can clean up whatever’s come before. They’re the experts in improving processes, making things more efficient and bringing order to the town. I guess you could also think of these as the sheriffs and deputies that keep your technology’s outlaws in check.

Town planners are the people who can plant the trees, fill in the holes in the sidewalk, and pretty-up the town the pioneers and settlers built.

Circling the Wagons

While each type of townsperson has a distinct role to play, neither one is inherently better – or worse – than the other. In fact, companies need each type of townsperson to build and accomplish the complete technology vision.

According to Murray, transforming – and therefore innovating – is a verb. It’s a constant cycle of innovation, buildout and continuous improvement. Once you corral the pioneers, the settlers and the townspeople, you need to keep circling the wagons back through that process.

The pioneers need to keep innovating, keep pushing the boundaries, breaking down the barriers and clearing the road forward. The settlers need to keep coming along and building out these innovative plans and ideas into concrete realizations. The town planners need to keep making sense of the creative chaos and continuously improving and streamlining in order for everyone to forge forward together.

Eventually, Murray states, “You encourage the settlers to steal people, processes and technology from the pioneers, and similarly, the town planners from the settlers.” Your town starts to transform into something bigger, something better, something with a pattern and an architecture – and a future.

So what kind of townsperson are you? And how can you use your unique placement in your legal ops town to drive transformation and innovation? Well now, that seems like the next frontier for you to explore, ‘lil lady (or sir).

Explore the next frontier of legal ops in this webinar with Brian McGovern and HBR Consulting’s Kevin Clem. Watch the webinar on demand now