WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA)’s recent 2018 conference (ILTACON) one dominant theme emerged throughout several panels and keynotes. And that is that everyone in law firms, especially attorneys, should seek collaboration with those (potential non-legal) professionals in the new tech-focused roles within their firms in order to better drive innovation, value, and profitability for both their clients and firms.
Don’t Forget the Attorneys and CIOs
In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, I looked at new and emerging roles in legal technology and how law firms could better serve their clients and drive value and profit in their own firms by utilizing these roles more than they have in the past. In this part, I’ll look at how innovation efforts can be more successful if firms ensure they involve more traditional and established roles as well, such as attorneys, paralegals, and chief information officers (CIOs).
While often CIOs, chief knowledge officers, and research services directors in law firms have driven development, purchase, and adoption of new technologies, CIOs and chief innovation officers (CINOs) at this year’s ILTACON noted that driving value, efficiency and profit within your firm and externally for your clients necessarily depends on working with the team around you. To successfully implement innovation within your firm, they explained, you must think about the roles you will need to ensure any proposed innovations continue at your firm.
“You will need analytics folks and data scientists to drive and add value, and optimize efficiency both internally and externally for clients,” said Blank Rome CIO Andrea Markstrom.
Andrew Sprogis, CINO at Katten Muchin Rosenman, agreed, adding that for innovation, you also need to develop as many relationships across the firm as you can. “You need to be familiar with all aspects of the firm’s practices and work,” Sprogis said. “Talk to as many people in as many departments as you can, including the partners.”
Aaron Crews, chief data analytics officer at Littler Mendelson, advised stopping by and talking with anyone at the firm who is interested. “If an attorney has an idea and is willing to pursue it, jump on that and try to drive change with them,” he said.
Attorneys can be instrumental as subject matter experts to drive new innovations — and you need this expertise to drive new solutions, explained Mara Nickerson, chief knowledge officer at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, adding that’s one of the reason Osler rewards attorneys with 50 hours of billable credit annually for engaging in “innovation activities.”
“Some law schools are building great T-shaped lawyers, but law firm culture hasn’t changed to appreciate and value that…
The legal industry has a tremendous future if law firms could just learn to better utilize a broader mix of talent.”
Fenwick & West’s Camille Reynolds, senior director of knowledge and innovation delivery, agreed there was great value in partnering with attorneys for innovation, noting that at her firm’s first meeting of a team dedicated to developing a new client dashboard, the lead partner banned all other partners present from speaking, instead directing everyone to listen solely to the associates and paralegals present. “The secret weapon in your innovation activities are your mid-level and senior associates,” Reynolds said. “They are very skilled, and they’re focused on what can help them get work done more efficiently so they can get home to their kids at night.” Of course, there are other rewards for attorneys who take the extra time to drive innovation efforts; the Fenwick & West associate who worked on the firm’s open source platform raised his profile within the firm (and in the market, as he ended up moving on elsewhere).
Other CIOs and CINOs noted that bringing attorneys into innovation projects early on can convince firm leadership to pursue these projects. If you can find several partners from various practice groups to support your proposed innovation and they’re willing to champion it to executives, you’re much more likely to get it funded, several said. “When you have several attorneys with overlapping practices who all want the innovation you’re pursuing, the number of objections from IT that it is not feasible due to scheduling or security issues decrease tremendously,” said Littler’s Crews.
“The secret weapon in your innovation activities are your midlevel and senior associates… They are very skilled, and they’re focused on what can help them get work done more efficiently so they can get home to their kids at night.”
Beyond just using attorneys for subject-matter expertise in innovation initiatives, Dentons’ Global CINO John Fernandez notes that many lawyers today are graduating from legal tech programs — like those at Michigan State University, Chicago-Kent State, and Suffolk University Law School — with deeper technical, coding, project management, and other skills. He lamented, however, that law firms hadn’t truly found a place for them yet. “Some law schools are building great T-shaped lawyers, but law firm culture hasn’t changed to appreciate and value that,” he noted, warning that law firms will lose out on many of these well-rounded lawyers to alternative legal service providers or tech companies if they don’t create a meaningful place and path for them within law firms. “The legal industry has a tremendous future if law firms could just learn to better utilize a broader mix of talent.”
In conclusion, the message from almost every panel at ILTACON was this: Law firms need to be using multidisciplinary teams. “Don’t just hire people that are smarter than you,” said Fernandez. “Hire people who are different than you, so you find creative and innovative solutions to drive work forward.”
Other innovation experts agreed. “Asking for help is a sign of leadership, not weakness,” said Katie DeBord, CINO of Bryan Cave. “If you have smart people around you, collaborate with them.”