Ones to Watch: Wendy Butler Curtis, Chief Innovation Officer, and Kate Orr, Senior Innovation Counsel, for Orrick

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Ones to Watch

In a new blog series, “Ones to Watch”, David Curle, Director of the Technology and Innovation Platform for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, explores where innovative law firms are investing their resources to stay ahead of the competition while delivering superior results to their clients.

At Orrick, innovation is part of everyone’s job. Orrick’s Chief Innovation Officer Wendy Butler Curtis and Senior Innovation Counsel Kate Orr have more than a few examples of the many ways that innovation is part of the DNA of the firm.

The Broad Reach of Innovation

One way to look at innovation within the firm is to see the extensive scope of Curtis’ domain as chief innovation officer. She has helped build what’s arguably one of the first and most important law firm innovations — the firm’s Global Operations Center (GOC) in Wheeling, West Virginia, which was the first global insourcing center operated by a US law firm. The GOC focuses on technology and process improvement and draws on a wide range of new staffing and law firm roles. For example, at the GOC there’s a group called Orrick Analytics that focused on big data and applying AI, analytics, bots, and automation to the firm’s work.

Ones to Watch

Kate Orr, Senior Innovation Counsel at Orrick

The GOC also includes a Career Associate team. These are skilled and specialized attorneys who contribute in a very meaningful way to client relationships and engagements but are not interested in becoming partners. Part of their role is to bring innovation to the practice groups they support. Numerous other roles and groups also support innovation in the firm: dedicated project managers, project attorneys, innovation attorneys, among others. Orrick also recently formed a team called Delta with representatives from all over the firm that helps vet innovation ideas and prioritize resource deployment.

In addition to all that, there are several ways the firm encourages innovation among all the firm’s employees. There are “2% projects” — every partner identifies some form of improvement that they devote up to 2% of their time on. There are cash awards for innovation projects that improve operations or promote efficiencies. There are innovation hackathons in the firm’s offices around the world that include both lawyers and other professionals and staff. Associates are allotted 50 hours of time credit to use toward innovation projects.


Join Orrick’s Wendy Butler Curtis and Thomson Reuters’ David Curle in “The Ones to Watch: Insights from Law Firm Innovators”, a one-hour webinar held at 1 pm, on December 11. You can register here!


The firm also launched Orrick Labs, where it works to develop customized technology solutions that the firm cannot find in the market. “We’re also keeping a close eye on the market, tracking at least 200 emerging legal technologies and evaluating them for use, and bringing them to our matters,” says Curtis. “If there is something in the market that we think is valuable, we try it.” She describes it as an incubation of sorts that allows the firm to learn what’s happening with these technologies, stay in touch with them, and follow them through the various phases of maturity. “Testing them, piloting them, that’s all happening,” says Curtis.

Building Proprietary Systems

That’s a lot of activity — but it does lead to core innovations that have become an integral part of the firm’s operations. One example is CaseStream, the firm’s proprietary matter management system that was developed under Senior Innovation Counsel Orr. CaseStream supports matter management by tracking files, calendaring, noting deadlines, and facilitating collaboration with clients — making it a prime workflow tool. But all the while it’s also capturing deeper data on the matters — making it an efficiency and pricing tool as well. This feature allows Orrick to find opportunities for speeding delivery or cutting costs, and quickly pricing matters based on data from past matters. An internal mapping team keeps processes on track with firm standards. “All of this translates into maintaining the high quality of service that we deliver while meeting client expectations on cost,” says Orr.

Ones to Watch

Wendy Butler Curtis, Chief Innovation Officer of Orrick

In addition, Orrick provides a number of proprietary client-facing tools for on-demand service. For example, an IPO readiness tool helps clients evaluate their corporate health.

ROI and Measurement

One of the key opportunities with innovation initiatives is showing return on investment (ROI), Curtis explains. “We want to show a return on investment as a good business practice. When we’re able to measure how technology impacts the profitability of a matter, or if we wouldn’t have been able to handle an engagement if we didn’t have the technology, we’re advancing the ball,” she says. “Of course, our clients love it when we can demonstrate ROI — it’s how they run their business.”

Curtis and Orr made it clear that the application of new technologies requires a great deal of collaboration. The firm has been an early adopter of artificial intelligence in their litigation and transactional practices; and it is also using analytics to leverage all the data that its processes and tools generate. These applications demand that lawyers work closely with the data analysts, statisticians, project managers, and other legal technologists necessary to manage these new technologies.

“Our approach to innovation and these efforts is focused on client service and being part of the client team; and most are receptive to that because we position ourselves as there to help,” says Orr. “Our attorneys and clients are open to working with us because they understand our purpose — and once we execute on a project and knock it out of the park, they see the instant value.”

Ones to Watch

Curtis agreed. “We innovate to better serve our clients, and so the focus of our innovation is to better meet client needs,” Curtis says, adding that the firm has a very broad innovation strategy that goes beyond technology alone.

“It’s streamlined processes, novel client service offerings, and tailored solutions for our clients,” she explains. “This is not a new initiative for us, but it’s really how we think about doing business and meeting the ever-changing needs of our clients and their businesses.”