Innovation hubs part II: Space or mindset required?

Reed Smith’s introduction of dedicated innovation hubs in its London and New York office has sparked some interesting debate over whether space is really necessary in order to innovate.

The circa 1,700-lawyer firm has created hubs measuring 538 ft. sq. in London and 320 ft. sq. in New York, which sit in the centre of the firm’s client meeting areas and are intended to act as catalysts for clients and lawyers to brainstorm, unlock new opportunities and test new technologies. One of those leading the initiative is global chief knowledge officer Lucy Dillon, who arrived from Berwin Leighton Paisner in June 2015.

Speaking to Legal IT Insider, Dillon said: “In doing the research for the space a lot of people said that it’s about having an environment that’s uncluttered and not intimidating, where we can let our minds work.

“It’s a catalyst for people to say ‘I have a fantastic idea, let’s see if it works.’”

The space has telepresence but is deliberately low tech – all the walls are writable and Dillon adds: “This is about how we interact with the client and internally and the feedback has been amazing. When you write on the walls it brings out the inner rebel. We’re deliberately not letting tech get in the way but the ideas that come out will inevitably have a high tech focus.”

The hubs – the first part of a wider initiative that has seen Alex Smith come on board from LexisNexis as a dedicated innovation manager – are expected to be replicated across the firm.

Tweeting about the hubs, Ron Friedmann, a consultant at Fireman & Company said: “What’s key? Space or mindset?” He added: “I’m not sure space necessary and it’s certainly not sufficient for innovation.”

Certainly the hubs would seem to suggest a willing mindset; Reed Smith’s next step is to run a series of events around them.

Perhaps more key, Dillon says the Pittsburgh-founded firm is prepared to invest in successful ideas, although there is currently no dedicated R&D fund. Such a fund may be an option in the future.

“We have funded projects in the past and will continue to do so but the money comes from different areas of the firm depending on the nature of the innovation,” Dillon says. “We will fund the ideas which will generate the best opportunities for us and our clients. This is a very public iteration of something that we have been doing for a while.”

Examples of previous innovation and investment includes Reed Smith’s Deal Performance Platform (DPP), which combines extranet technology with built in document automation, proofing and collaboration tools, meaning emails between lawyer and client can be reduced or avoided.

As to whether hubs (in this context meaning physical space) help accelerate or encourage innovation, in his Twitter feed Friedmann added: “I suppose it’s empirical; do we have data?”

Aside from any data currently available (comment below if you’re aware of any), Reed Smith may well turn out to be something of a test case. Let’s, err, watch that space.