Linklaters appoints first-time head of innovation – and what that means

I get a bit blindsided by the growing number of law firm innovation teams and heads so I’m grateful to Paul Lewis, finance partner at Linklaters, for his clarification over the remit of Shilpa Bhandarkar, who the magic circle firm has just hired in the newly-created role of head of innovation.
If you hate the word innovation, look away now, because Bhandarkar will supervise Linklaters’ innovation and efficiency team launched in 2016, which helps to harness and triage ideas from across the firm as well as looks strategically at innovative projects that the firm ought to be engaged with – both internally and client-facing.
That team is partner-led (by Lewis, Sophie Mathur in Singapore and Christian Storck in Frankfurt) and ideas so far include teaching lawyers to code, which started out as an idea from a trainee that led to the launch of a pilot programme.
Bhandarkar and her team will be based in Linklaters’ Innovation Lab, which is based on the second floor of the Silk Street office, close to the canteen: the location is more relevant than you might think and Lewis said: “It’s quite nice to have a space where everyone has to walk past on their way to the canteen, which is a good focal point and means there is a real existence to it.”
The Lab is used by five or six people at any one time, including people like Ben Gardner, former data and information architect at Linklaters and now chief scientific officer at Wavelength Law, who is retained by Linklaters as a consultant.
The Lab shouldn’t be confused with Linklater’s Apple-style IT shop, Ask IT, which (as we first revealed at the end of 2016) is based in the same corridor with the same objective of making IT accessible to staff on a day-to-day basis.
Bhandarkar was most recently legal network director at Lexoo and before that co-founded Coo Limited – a group communication and calendar app. However, she is Linklaters alumni, having started out as a project finance associate and held subsequent business management roles.
In a statement out today (6 July), Lewis said: “Innovation is not just about adopting technology-enabled products, it is also about changing the way we work with clients, how we manage our people and how we organise ourselves. It is central to the future of our business and Shilpa will help to both crystallise and deliver on our vision.”
The number of firms with an innovation head is growing, as they look for ways not only to adapt to the changing technology landscape but to embed change with the law firm culture. Well-known innovation managers include Alex Smith at Reed Smith, who joined in 2016 from LexisNexis.
Commenting on her appointment, Bhandarkar said: “Linklaters has always embraced new ideas and technologies that enable it to provide a best in class service to its clients and a fulfilling work environment for its people. This is reflected in collaborations with clients such as ISDA, as well as internal collaborations borne through our ideas pathway.
“As a people business, innovation, however defined, must ultimately result in a better experience for both our clients and our people. I’m looking forward to working with our practice innovation teams to develop a truly entrepreneurial mindset across the firm to ensure our best ideas are captured, developed and scaled.”