Law Firm Leaders Recap: The Unintended Consequences of Law Firm Innovations

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts


NEW YORK — Many firms which dedicate time and resources to being innovative are trying to achieve a specific goal to benefit the firm, whether that goal is to improve internal efficiencies, deliver client results with more transparency and efficiency, or differentiate themselves within the market. But what are the actual results of these innovative efforts made by law firms?

During the recent 21st Annual Law Firm Leaders Forum, a panel entitled “Assessing Collaborative Innovation in the Delivery of Legal Service” spoke to the topic of the results and consequences of legal innovation directly. Not surprisingly, as the panelists described, the intended objectives often were met with varying degrees of success. For example, there was the realization that some of the objectives are long-term goals and the steps being taken now will lead to the desired results down the road. However, there also were several unintended, and quite positive, additional results.

Millennial Engagement

Younger lawyers entering the workforce are accustomed to utilizing technology in their daily lives. Incorporating innovation and technology into the various stages of a legal matter leads to better attorney engagement and retention. For example, the panelists described their portal pages which allow for enterprise-searching, both to locate a colleague who has expertise on the issue to collaborate with, and to find internal documents similar to the current assigned matter. These innovations have led to a more positive view of the organization. The attorneys feel they are being supported by their firm and feel like they are part of a collaborative team, the panelists noted.

“We think that there has been a significant impact in terms of our recruitment and retention,” said Michael Shea, Chief Information Officer at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. “So when we look at the surveys from our summer associates and from our new associates, technology is one of those very important factors that comes up in terms of how well they feel connected to the organization and how they feel that they are being supported in the organization.”

Stronger Ties to Clients

Several examples were given to illustrate how law firms are working with clients to co-develop solutions to problems, such as:

  • streamlining repetitive tasks through solutions such as document automation; and
  • leveraging law firm technology and infrastructure in atypical ways, for example, partnering together on pro bono opportunities and sharing the results of proprietary budget forecasting tools.

While one panelist noted that clients are focused on the quality of the end-product and therefore do not always appreciate the optimization or process improvements implemented, ultimately these innovative undertakings, even as they are mostly hidden and under-appreciated, will result in client retention.

Job Creation

Over the last few years, roles within law firms were created for project management and pricing professionals, while newer roles include positions for coders, data analyzers and document automation specialists. Instead of outsourcing such tech-heavy tasks, law firms are moving roles in-house when possible, to better customize tools and technology to the firms’ specific culture, panelists explained. This shift to in-house specialists allows for faster creation and deployment of problem-solving solutions since the employees understand the firm’s specific culture and can collaborate better with the end-users.

“That also means spending time on coming up with better ways to work more cost efficient[ly] without compromising on quality,” said Bas Boris Visser, Partner & Global Head of Innovation & Business Change at Clifford Chance. “Firms should be introducing solid project management tools and introducing new roles, like transaction managers, resource managers and contract lawyers. In fact, we recently appointed a Commercial Director.”

Whether firms are innovating to increase their profits, to distinguish themselves in the market or to react to client demands for transparency, the panel noted that firms are also creating an environment that matches the expectations of the new generation of attorneys, creating more collaborative client relationships and creating new employment opportunities.