What has it been like building an innovation team inside a law firm? And what really is innovation in a legal business context? These are some of the questions Artificial Lawyer explored with Isabel Parker, one of two Chief Legal Innovation Officers (CLIO) at global law firm Freshfields.
Staffed three years ago with just two people initially, the innovation team soon started to have an impact and in turn began to grow. It’s now several times the size it was. Integral to its work is what the firm calls its Innovation Hub and also its Innovation Lab, which is in Berlin, (see below).
The Hub brings together lawyers, technologists, legal support staff and process improvement specialists, who work together to design more agile and efficient ways to deliver legal services.
The Lab works collaboratively with clients to explore digital technologies and to develop new ways of working that tackle their challenges and opportunities stemming from digitisation across the legal sector and clients’ own industry sectors.
‘We’ve massively increased in terms of maturity and professionalism as a team. We have a clearly defined strategy for digital transformation which is at the heart of the firm’s [overall] strategy,’ says Parker.
‘And we have professionalised the way we take clients’ ideas and turn them into products, which we simply weren’t able to do before. So, we have all the processes, the infrastructure, and the investment in place to move really, really quickly now and I think that has been a big difference.’
Innovation is genuinely taken seriously by the firm, she points out, and has a place at the heart of its management team.
‘Rather than just say we are buying in technology to solve problems, [the firm is] looking at digital transformation as part of [its] strategy. So, for example, our chief digital and technology officer has a seat on our equivalent of the firm’s board,’ she explains.
“The more a client is interested in what you are doing, the more partners recognise that it is absolutely integral to how we deliver.”
Management Take Notice
Artificial Lawyer was curious to know how the little team grew into a successful unit, and how it got the attention and investment from management?
‘I think it would have happened anyway over time,’ Parker explains, ‘but we also got a new chief digital and technology officer 18 months ago (Charlotte Baldwin) who joined us from outside the legal sector [and who has] significant experience in digital transformation. She helps to import a lot of the methodologies and approaches from other industries. It’s made us move faster and given us a lot more credibility with our governance board.’
She also mentions winning more credibility through client interactions.
‘We are much more client facing as a function than we used to be. We are included as standard on many pitches. We go to see clients, we workshop with them, we share our insights. The more a client is interested in what you are doing, the more partners recognise that it is absolutely integral to how we deliver,’ Parker explains.
Artificial Lawyer couldn’t help noticing how passionately she spoke about the team’s work, and asks if perhaps having her onboard has led to the team’s success too?
She laughs modestly and mentions her fellow CLIO, Adam Ryan. ‘It is absolutely a team effort,’ she notes.
What is innovation?
Parker’s definition of innovation in the context of law is that it is ‘a more creative way of delivering our services to clients’.
‘We’ve got the opportunity to do a lot of different things which include technology, obviously, but also process improvement and new ways of interacting. [It’s about] asking open-ended questions. It’s just a more creative way of doing what we have always done with our client base,’ she explains.
When asked which top innovative products or services stand out for her at the firm, she replies it has not been a particular piece of tech that has changed things, but rather a change in culture.
‘It is not [the] technology, it’s a way of working. It’s a different way of delivering services to our clients,’ she explains.
‘So [traditionally] a client will come to you with a legal problem You will get a team of lawyers together and go into the meeting equipped with the answer, tell the clients how you are going to solve it, what team you are going to use, how much it will cost, and when we will deliver.
‘But this is a completely new way of working that doesn’t involve that level of certainty. So, it’s more about approaching your problem in a very open-ended way and thinking about the client experience.
‘There’s different ways to collaborate with the client to solve the problem collectively, to thinking about owning the benefits of the solution throughout its life rather than just coming up with a [one off] solution to a problem.’
And when it comes to people who are still perhaps a bit resistant to this approach?
‘[At] any law firm there will always be individuals that are resistant to change and you have to confront that. You have to respect people’s professionalism and their entrenched way of working. But as clients push more and more, [you have] to be more agile, more responsive, and quicker moving in a more competitive landscape. You have to use that to persuade your partnership to invest heavily in digital now,’ she concludes.
It certainly looks like Parker and colleagues have succeeded in this regard.
Isabel Parker is Chief Legal Innovation Officer at Freshfields. Hear more from her and other great speakers at the upcoming Legal Innovators conference on 11 October 2019.