From Concept To Results: Making Innovation Work | Above the Law

There’s no question that the legal industry looks different today than it did even five years ago. Several high-impact trends — from increasing information complexity and client demands to economic forces, changing demographics and technological advancements –- are converging to change the way we work. Those factors have created an environment where clients expect answers immediately, and the job of finding those answers is more complicated than ever before.

As we learned in Wolters Kluwer’s Future Ready Lawyer survey, legal professionals are turning more often to technology and innovation to solve those challenges, and early adopters (or Technology Leaders) are already showing a competitive advantage. The survey found that 68 percent of Technology Leaders reported increased profitability from 2017 to 2018, compared to just 52 percent of organizations that have been slower to adopt those practices. In addition to profitability, 50 percent of Technology Leaders who responded to the survey felt prepared to keep pace with the changes that legal professionals are experiencing as the industry continues to evolve.

Despite the clear advantages that technology and innovation can have for legal professionals, many survey participants also indicated resistance to change. Our respondents told us the following:

Based on the survey’s findings, the obstacles to bringing innovation into an organization are very real, but some law firms have made strong progress in developing innovation programs. I recently had the pleasure of hosting a panel at Ark Group’s second annual Legal Innovation Summit in Boston with three talented individuals who have spearheaded innovation efforts at their own organizations.

One of our panelists was Lucy Dillon, Chief Knowledge Officer at Reed Smith, a global law firm with more than 1,500 lawyers in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Implementing any kind of new system within an organization of such size is an accomplishment in and of itself –- and in Lucy’s case, implementing innovative practices has taken effort, but so far, it’s proving successful.

Dillon recognized that lawyers of the future will need a different set of skills to deliver services in a digital environment. To help prepare for the change, she proposed a plan to include students with different skill sets in the firm’s Summer Associate program. “Changing the culture involves building from the ground up, so I saw our Summer Associate program as a good place for us to introduce practitioners with different skills and interests,” she said.

To get started, Dillon’s team identified universities that offered a broader curriculum, with the goal of finding students for last summer’s program who had interest and experience in tech, process design, and service design. Those associates were expected to dedicate a portion of their time specifically to innovation and legal tech projects for the firm. The firm piloted the scheme in 2018 with three students, growing to four in the 2019 intake.  That level will continue in 2020. In a positive first measurement, all of the “legal tech” Summer Associates have been offered New Associate positions at the firm. The first cohort joined in September 2019, so it is early days, but alongside their more traditional new associate activities, they are already involved in developing digital platforms for clients, document automation, and the design and implementation of a number of systems to improve internal efficiency.

Reed Smith has also implemented a practice to give lawyers across the firm an opportunity to share their own ideas for innovation. “Our lawyers have good ideas and an enthusiasm to try new things, but they don’t have much time available to put those ideas into action,” Dillon said. To encourage ideas, the firm created a system that allows practitioners to receive billable credit for approved innovation projects.

We have adopted a very broad definition of innovation, so that everyone with an idea of how to improve efficiency or for a new client service feels empowered to submit an idea. We have publicized where ideas should be submitted and we assess quickly, and we have a clearly articulated approval process and ongoing project management to ensure that time is well spent. We also showcase projects to promote the program and encourage others to participate.” In this instance, a “good project” is defined as one which has been well thought through, with a clear problem to solve. That can range from working with a client to develop a collaboration platform to creating a workflow for an internal process. A success can also be a failure, when an idea which seems like a good one fails to deliver, as these can be valuable learning opportunities for the firm.

Reed Smith’s innovation programs have a few winning qualities that other legal professionals can observe:

Those factors can be important to consider when making the case for innovation -– especially if you encounter resistance from other areas of your organization. Having a clear plan with specific actions, accountability, and goals can make for a more favorable argument to implement change.

Dillon summed up her advice to would-be innovators in a few choice words: “Start small, but with a view as to how you would scale. Go where there is energy. Don’t over-engineer. Work with the culture of your firm. Be patient!”

Dean E. Sonderegger is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., a leading provider of information, business intelligence, regulatory and legal workflow solutions. Dean has more than two decades of experience at the cutting edge of technology across industries. He can be reached at [email protected].

Download the white paper to learn more about how you can use predictive coding to your advantage.

Download the white paper to learn more about how you can use predictive coding to your advantage.

Read this white paper to learn how you can step into 3E by implementing transitional products from Thomson Reuters Elite.

Step into 3E by implementing transitional products from Thomson Reuters Elite.