How the current crisis is expediting innovation within legal

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As the current pandemic slogs onward, more attention is focusing on how legal organizations can best manage through the crisis and come out better prepared on the other side. And a big part of that, is becoming aware of what opportunities the public health crisis has opened up.

To that end, we sat down with a few well-known innovators within the legal industry — Abigail Dubiniecki, a data privacy lawyer who helps small- and medium-sized enterprises build robust internal privacy programs from the ground up; Maya Markovich, chief growth officer at Dentons’ Nextlaw Labs; and Lucy Bassli, founder of InnoLegal Services and a legal innovation expert.

Innovations in privacy

Dubiniecki, based in the UK, says she takes a blended, risk-based approach to privacy that addresses legal, technological, and operational issues to better provide solutions that make sense within their commercial realities. She sees a lot of opportunity to accelerate efficiencies within most organizations in areas of privacy, compliance, and beyond.

Some of the most exciting opportunities for innovation coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dubiniecki explains has come from her participation in Hack from Home, a global virtual hackathon, that has “pioneered privacy-preserving, ethical technology applications that further the advancement of citizen science… on the front lines of the fight against the disease.” She also has been part of innovative efforts in the privacy regulatory marketplace after one of her clients had to scramble to create the capability to work remotely and address social distancing requirements.

The challenge of supervising teams remotely and putting a lot of faith in your individual employees to keep company data, business processes, and client material confidential is daunting, she explains, adding that for those in charge of cybersecurity, moving to a fully distributive and mobile environment has caused many sleepless nights.

The other privacy area that COVID-19 has exposed is vulnerabilities in the vendor due diligence process. For example, Dubiniecki’s clients tend to rely very heavily on outsourced third-party software-as-a-service platforms for much of what they do. “I’ve been telling them that vendor due diligence, which is a legal obligation under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is not just about ticking boxes,” Dubiniecki says. “You have to vet your vendors for security, privacy, and data protection compliance because it matters. And privacy-first, security-first solutions go beyond mere compliance, delivering functionality and enhancing trust.” Indeed, the suddenly popular Zoom demonstrated the ramifications of a less-than-ideal vendor due diligence process for companies relying on a third-party platform for video meeting capabilities, she adds.

Another innovation in the privacy space, according to Markovich, is Dentons’ partnership with Libryo, one the firm’s Nextlaw Ventures portfolio companies. Libryo distills complex legal regulation into more accessible terms and has rolled out a COVID-19 regulation tracker to allow clients to understand the legal requirements related to the pandemic, such as in the areas of employment and health & safety.

Innovations within the legal service execution

Even before the pandemic, corporate law departments were asking their panel law firms for greater transparency in billing. Irene Liu, general counsel at Checkr, says that now with the crisis, the need for transparency is ever greater. “Given the COVID crisis, we’re scrutinizing our budget and outside counsel fees,” Liu says. And Apperio, a Nextlaw Ventures portfolio company that offers legal spend management, is seeing a growth in demand.Billing and contracting also have been impacted by the public health crisis, Markovich says, especially in areas of transparency around billing.

In contracting, the pandemic and resulting disruption in supply chains and manufacturing is expected to cause chaos with contract and result in an onslaught of issues. To address this, Nextlaw In-House Solutions is creating a holistic service to help clients manage this problem. “We take over some of the infrastructural pain points and leverage our subject matter expertise at the highest level when needed,” says Bassli, who is a consultant to Nextlaw In-House Solutions.

At the same time, Markovich also noted the opportunities from a talent perspective arising because of COVID-19. Internally within Dentons, the firm’s Next Talent project has accelerated to increase interpersonal connections and emotional quotient development programs, especially after in-person contact is less of an option because of social distancing. “At Dentons, people are lifting each other up, and looking towards the mid- and longer-term future where we’re really coming out better than before in this next new normal environment,” Markovich says. “I feel like the longer that we have, obviously, to get used to the new normal and get comfortable with the changes, I think increased efficiencies will become the norm.”

Bassli agrees, adding that in many ways it is a great time for women to advance their careers through innovation. “Being innovative in the legal practice is gender-neutral, and innovation offers the opportunity to recreate the rules,” she says. “And the new rules now are delivering more efficient, effective services that delight your clients.”