This article first appeared in the November/December Legal IT Insider

By Ron Friedmann (pictured), partner at Fireman & Company

When I started in the legal market almost three decades ago, few lawyers or firms thought to say or think the word innovation, much less tout it. Today, I read legal innovation articles or blog posts every day. I have to ask though, does reality reflect the talk. The answer has two parts. First, we need to know what percent of law firms and departments that talk about innovation actually have more than a token innovation initiative? I suspect that the volume of talk is far higher than the amount of action. How much more, I leave for you to decide.

And second, we need to know the impact of substantive initiatives on how lawyers work. My conversations with many working on innovation leave me concerned about the answer. I fear that many innovation initiatives touch only a small percent of lawyers. And that for those touched, it’s not clear the innovations dramatically change how they work. I welcome data to disprove this.

My skepticism notwithstanding, I commend the talk. It will eventually lead to faster change, which the legal market desperately needs. What type of change? With all the innovation talk, we sometimes forget that that unless lawyers change how they work, innovation may not matter, at least not to clients. Clients want better value. That means doing less, delegating more, or practicing more efficiently. If I were a client, talk of innovation would not impress me. What would impress me is hearing how my outside counsel or in-house lawyers say things like:

– “Our typical due diligence cost has gone down by X% since we started using a machine learning tool”.

– “Finishing matter type X used to take 100 days but now that we re-engineered our process and deployed better tech, it only takes 70 days.”

– “In litigation, we now do an early systematic look at documents and then run decision trees. That has improved our settlement rate from 70% to 85% and saved an average of 15% on our litigation spend.”

– “Five years ago, our budgets were, in truth, not that reliable. Today, 90% of our budgets are within 10% of actual cost because we have both collected better data and now manage our matters more actively”

– “We have applied AI and data analytics to corporate operational data. That has let us see patterns relevant to law and compliance that we did not know existed. And seeing those patterns, we’ve been able to prevent some litigation and avoid some failures to comply. We have saved Y% doing this.”

Innovation is a feature. But clients want benefits. Instead of talking about innovation, talk about results.

That’s my hope for 2018 and beyond.