The pursuit of a successful innovation strategy is one of the most crucial undertakings for a legal organization in today’s market, and it takes a deep commitment from all involved players, from top management to incoming entrants, to make such an endeavor successful, according to participants of a recent webinar panel.
Indeed, panelists said it doesn’t really matter whether that innovation takes the form of an investment in people, through training and education; processes, through an examination of its workflow efficiency and systems; or technology, through careful analysis and planning before any new technology is purchased and used. Commitment, goal-setting, and follow-through is crucial to any innovation strategy, no matter what the innovation or what the form of the organization.
The webinar, Innovation in Practice: People, Process & Technology, brought together innovation experts from law firms, law schools, and corporate in-house legal departments to discuss how their organization adopted innovation to change the way they approach the legal market.
Law Schools: Teaching New Lawyers to Embrace Change
Along with globalization of legal services, innovation is one of the major drivers of change in the legal industry, said Jim Lupo, Professor of Practice and Director of the Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. “When we talk about innovation, we talk about not only technology and technological applications to the delivery of legal services, but also of alternative service providers or legal process outsourcers,” Lupo explained, adding that this requires a new set of skills and sensitivities of awareness that law schools need to instill in legal students.
“We thought it was really good idea to have a space and a process to bring the legal services sector into the law school to inform legal education best practices. So essentially, the Center became a legal education best practices incubator.”
— Prof. Jim Lupo, Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law
Law schools need to respond to this new dynamic so that they turn out new lawyers that are ready for how the industry has changed and how much the practice of law has changed, Lupo said. He described how Northwestern approached that problem in recent years by analyzing its law school curriculum to see how it should be changed to adapt to the evolving landscape of the legal services sector. “And we did what academics usually do,” he said. “We looked at all the conventional wisdom, the research, and the scholarship that had been done, and we came up with what we though were our best ideas. But the one nagging realization that we all faced was the fact that we don’t actually practice law.”
This led to the launching in 2015 of the school’s Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation. “We thought it was really good idea to have a space and a process to bring the legal services sector into the law school to inform legal education best practices,” Lupo explained. “So essentially, the Center became a legal education best practices incubator.” Now, the school is better able to educate students about significant changes within legal, such as the changing relationship between clients and legal service providers and the rise of legal operations among in-house departments.
In-House Legal: The Rise of Process Innovation & Legal Operations
The increasing importance of making workflow process and matter management more efficient, cost-effective and quicker has been a strong driver of change itself in the corporate legal world. This effort, under the rubric of legal operations, has touched on many new and vital components that are redefining what corporate clients expect from both their in-house counsel and their outside legal providers.
“There is a transformation going on within corporate legal departments, moving them from an in-house law firm to a legal business unit,” said Tariq Abdullah, senior director in Legal Operations, Data & Analytics in Walmart’s legal department. “The in-house legal department should be treated the same way as any other business unit, and it should be held accountable to the same types of standards. There should not be very many differences between the legal department and other business departments, at least as a foundation.”
To get Walmart’s legal team there, Abdullah began working with a team to install three strong pillars that would determine how the legal department would operate, which meant carefully examining how the in-house group was using data and analytics, and how its central systems and overall operations were conducted.
“There is a transformation going on within corporate legal departments, moving them from an in-house law firm to a legal business unit.”
— Tariq Abdullah, Walmart
Like many legal organizations, in-house departments are awash in data, much of which unfortunately goes unexamined. “But we were looking to turn data into actionable information,” Abdullah said. “We wanted to inform people — not to take away their decision-making authority, but to make sure they make the most informed decisions as possible.”
The second piece, Abdullah said, is examination of the overall systems. As Walmart turned more to legal operations, the legal department had to streamline several systems that are used only within the legal department, he explained, adding that the department had to learn to support and maintain all of those proprietary systems. “We had to change the brand and the perception of our team,” he said. “We’re not here to solve your Windows problem or tell you how to get a new computer, but we are here to support you as you use your data management system, your document management system or other systems.”
Finally, Abdullah said, there is overall operational component, and this is where innovation comes into play. “We try to align ourselves with the corporate strategy, so were not working in a silo,” he explained. “And now what’s exciting is that more and more we’re getting ideas from our team members within the legal department about how there’s maybe a better way to do things than how we’re currently doing them.”
Law Firms: Innovative Approaches to Technology for Themselves and for Clients
Choosing the best legal technology is a major consideration for legal organizations — not just for law firms to use themselves, but for firms to use in conjunction with clients to better serve their legal needs.
Wendy Curtis, chief innovation officer at Orrick, said that understanding the clients’ innovation needs is vital to being able to best serve that client. “In my role, it’s my responsibility to really understand the innovation goals of our clients and their industries — both in their business and also in their legal department,” Curtis said.
Indeed, the choice of what latest tech to purchase and adopt must reflect deep thinking on what tech might be best, most cost-efficient, and scalable — and even then, success often will depend on what tech gets used by lawyers.
“In my role, it’s my responsibility to really understand the innovation goals of our clients and their industries — both in their business and also in their legal department.”
— Wendy Curtis, Orrick
“Legal tech is a billion-dollar industry,” said Daryl Shetterly, director of Analytics at Orrick, adding that the firm built an internal process to review new technology products coming to market. “There are so many tools and there are so use-cases for tools and they’re all at various stages in the growth process,” Shetterly said. “We work with our clients, we work with different vendors, we work with other folks in the industry to figure out what tools are more advanced, and what tools show more promise.”
This process has allowed Orrick to shift through 300 companies and their legal products in order to find out which ones might be a good use-case for a particular matter, he said. In addition, the firm created Orrick Labs, which was essentially designed to answer the question, if we can’t buy it, can we build it? (Clearly, Orrick places a premium on its role in legal tech, announcing recently that the firm is setting up a venture fund to invest in legal tech companies.)
The webinar was sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center and by Thomson Reuters Westlaw Edge.