Four legal innovation heads compare remits, challenges and priorities
Around the table are:
Isabel Parker, chief legal innovation officer, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Shilpa Bhandarkar, head of innovation, Linklaters
Wendy Butler Curtis, chief innovation officer, Orrick
Kerry Westland, head of innovation and legal technology, Addleshaw Goddard
Innovation roles can differ widely in terms of day-to-day responsibilities. What, exactly, is your remit?
Parker: It’s complicated, as I wear a number of different hats. I am joint chief legal innovation officer. That is a global role and, broadly, my remit is to look at how our lawyers currently deliver legal services to clients and how that delivery can be improved – via process improvements, delivery from our Freshfields Hub or use of technology. I am also accountable, with Adam Ryan, our other joint CLIO and Sonia Awan, our global head of innovation architecture, for the “transform” layer of our digital transformation strategy, which involves the development of differentiating client-facing digital solutions. I also co-lead the Freshfields Lab in Berlin with two of my colleagues, Gerrit Beckhaus and Felix Netzer. Finally, I am global head of knowledge.
Bhandarkar: Very simply put, my role, and the role of my team, is to catalyse change. Our motto is “unleashing the imagination of our people, to challenge the present and shape the future”. But it’s more than a marketing strap-line – it’s the underlying philosophy of how we approach the space. There is a technology aspect to that, of course, but primarily I see my role as a change role. How do we get people to change the way they have done things for years and try something new? How do we get lawyers, who tend to be perfectionists, to get comfortable with the concept of a minimum viable product, a concept familiar to everyone in the start-up and innovation world?
Butler Curtis: As chief innovation officer, I help shepherd our firm and our clients through digital transformation. This includes redesigning legal services into legal solutions that allow the business customers to have on-demand and often self-service legal advice. Our goal is to add value, not delay. We want legal expertise to be an asset to the business in solving problems, reducing risk but also, equally importantly, identifying opportunities. The data in the law firm and the data in the legal department is an asset to decision-making and we are working to better harvest, monitor and report this data to help inform decision-making. Too often there is a misperception that this transformation is all about technology. I also work within the firm and with clients to identify new roles and skills for lawyers and legal professionals.
Westland: I’m head of innovation and legal technology. From the first of May this year, I am also a partner. I run a team of 26 which works across the firm, with our practice areas and clients, looking at new ways of working. Obviously, the introduction of technology is a part of that. We get involved with the really large projects that our clients will always need outside counsel for. And then we also talk to them about how they are using technology internally.
How does the innovation function fit with IT, and within the broader firm?
Bhandarkar: I wouldn’t describe us as a function. We are a small central team. We sit entirely separately from IT, although we are, of course, very closely aligned. Bruna Pellicci, our CTO, sits on the innovation steering group. We are both members of the cross functional Legaltech Working Group. But we are separate teams and for us that is the right model. The IT function has responsibilities around our tech infrastructure – emails, document management and so forth. My team looks more to finding and testing, as well as building, new products. My role, in part, is to challenge IT to make space for these new and emerging technologies in their road map – to be a bit more flexible in their way of working. And Bruna’s role is to challenge me to ensure that we only bring in what is actually necessary, and what integrates effectively with our technology stack. That equilibrium between our worlds is what makes it work well.
Westland: We are also a separate team, although we talk all the time. I report to the COO and so does our IT director. At Addleshaw Goddard, we have an area called Intelligent Delivery, which is where my team sits. IT is a business service, although I do have some IT developers ringfenced. I think that degree of separation is important because I see us as a conduit between the business and the technology piece. A lot of my team are legal professionals. That means we understand what is needed – what our clients are looking for – and can translate that into new ways of working. We also sometimes have to respond really rapidly to a client request. IT processes tend to be a bit slower. IT can help bring in the technology, and then I look at how we use that technology to deliver legal services.
Butler Curtis: We collaborate with our IT department but also have dedicated innovation resources. Within Orrick Analytics we have developers, project managers and a statistician. Outside of IT we have data scientists and Orrick Labs, our skunkworks. Within the innovation group we have innovation advisers who monitor functionality of legal tech, and also business applications commonly used by our clients, to help determine whether the firm or the client should build or buy a solution and, if build, whether existing tools can be leveraged for the build. The best models ensure a heavy focus on customer service, a mechanism for direct lines of communication with the firm and client customers, and a culture supportive of trying new things regardless of the outcome.
Parker: When I started my innovation role three years ago, the innovation function was separate from the IT department. This was a conscious decision, as our IT department had a lot of operational work to deliver and could not at that time focus on innovation. Since the arrival of Charlotte Baldwin, our chief digital and technology officer 18 months ago, innovation has become part of what we used to call “IT”, and we are now one team: Global Technology and Innovation. The model has to follow the maturity of the organisation and I think we were right to start out as a separate unit to build credibility within the firm and with our clients. Once Charlotte arrived, with her wealth of experience in digital transformation and started to build up capabilities in global technology, it was clear that innovation should be part of one function, aligning to our CDTO. We are now moving much faster, and have professionalised our innovation delivery. We are very happy to be one team.
What are your key priorities in terms of innovation?
Butler Curtis: A Gartner study reports that digital transformation is the number one priority for 80 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. We are certainly seeing this amongst our clients and our priority is to help our clients with this transformation.
Parker: We have just introduced a product delivery lifecycle which we are applying to the development of all client-facing digital products. This is a process by which we assess and prioritise ideas for client-facing tech products that come from the lawyers, looking at a number of factors, including strategic alignment with the firm’s priorities and relative business value. My priority is to get this embedded and humming, so that we can speed up delivery and make sure we are even faster to respond to client need. We cannot hang around as clients are increasingly asking for digital solutions and we have to be quick to respond to that.
Westland: We are prioritising workstreams that cover wide areas of the firm and which can therefore be re-engineered and offer the greatest value. We are also prioritising making sure we are using the best tools. There is a focus on research and development around what is in the market, whether we are using what we have in the right way, and if there are new capabilities we need to bring in. Finally, developing the right culture in the firm is also a priority. We need to make sure we are bringing everyone along on the journey.
Bhandarkar: We launched our Ideas Pathway, a tech ideation platform, earlier this year. The sheer number of really interesting ideas coming through that, and the potential to link up those ideas so we can offer more scalable solutions, is one big area of focus. We also launched Matter Explorer, which links together various databases in the firm and provides our lawyers with an almost Google-esque search function that allows them to find deal-related information across more than 750,000 deal bibles. Previously, this would have been a much more laborious process. Ideas like that, which bring data and technology together to improve the user experience for either our lawyers or our clients, are always exciting.
What would you say have been your biggest successes?
Bhandarkar: In addition to the Ideas Pathway and Matter Explorer, we recently also launched a virtual internship with Inside Sherpa. I really like this one because it highlights innovation and the use of technology, but not just on transactional work. This was about increasing diversity in and access to our profession, giving students that wouldn’t otherwise have considered a career in law the opportunity to see what working at a magic circle law firm might be like. We had over 1,500 students register from close to 200 universities in less than a week of launch.
Parker: Three years ago innovation was a team of two people with no substantive plan other than a strong belief that we could deliver more value for our clients. We are now a real leadership team with a diverse mix of skills – lawyers and technologists – and we have the capabilities, processes and foundations we need to drive transformation for clients. Watching the exponential growth in client interest has been really rewarding and seeing digital transformation firmly at the core of the firm’s strategy is similarly a great success for the team.
Butler Curtis: Orrick has a culture of innovation for all. Through our actions we empower everyone to innovate as part of their job. We offer innovation prizes and include all personnel in design thinking sessions and innovation reports. Our associates receive credit towards their bonuses for time devoted to innovation and, in the first 12 months of this programme, have devoted 4,000 hours or the equivalent of 500 days to innovation. We also work with our clients to help drive their innovation. In the past six months we have held innovation sessions with more than 400 client personnel.
Westland: We have won some really important pieces of work because we have been able to offer a technological solution. We have also retained clients because we have been able to show what we do, and how important it is. The growth of my team, and the development of those people, also blows me away every day. I had my first trainee qualify this month. Those sorts of personal successes are really exciting as well.
What challenges do you face in your innovation role?
Westland: I have been doing this for five and a half years now, and I find expectations have risen exponentially. Those expectations often exceed what is possible right now. Managing the expectations of clients and internal stakeholders around what can be done with today’s solutions is a challenge.
Parker: For me, it’s speed. We want to move faster and deliver more. We have come a long way, but we can always do better.
Bhandarkar: The upside of working in a firm the size and calibre of Linklaters is the volume of great ideas that our people generate. The challenge is pulling that together without making it a centralised function. We want innovation to stay within the practice, with the people closest to the problems we are trying to solve, but we also want scale. It can be difficult to keep track of everything and to connect all those dots. We haven’t found a tech solution for that yet – much of it is just down to good old-fashioned conversations and collaboration.
Butler Curtis: The Orrick innovation team has been a bit of a victim of our own success. At the end of last year, we were overwhelmed by the amount of ideas and energy across the firm. To solve this problem we built a platform available to the entire firm that crowd-sources information on all innovation projects ongoing at the firm as well as information on approximately 600 legal technologies either built by Orrick or available in the market. By making this information available to all, we can better prioritise resources, share knowledge and enable collaboration. This transparency also reduces concern over hype and gives everyone at the firm tangible examples of what is possible.
Do you think your role is properly understood by management, by IT and by the wider firm?
Parker: Having Charlotte join us has helped with this enormously. We now have a clearer vision and strategy for digital transformation that has been communicated across the firm. Our team objectives align to this strategy and we continually refer back to the strategy to make sure we are delivering. The firm as a whole is starting to speak the language of digital transformation – we recently put on “digital week” – a global internal programme of activities, talks, demos, webcasts and external speakers to reinforce the importance of digital transformation for us and for our clients. It was a great success.
Bhandarkar: As I mentioned before, we work very closely with our tech team and I’m therefore confident that they definitely understand what it is that we do. I think management at Linklaters has a clear understanding as well. A lot of thought went into creating the innovation steering group prior to the creation of the innovation team. That group, which comprises partners and senior members of our business teams, set the strategy and had a clear vision for what they wanted from the Linklaters innovation team. That is reflected in how we have designed our team and recruited for roles, mine included. I think the confusion is sometimes with the wider market because each firm has structured their innovation offering slightly differently. At some firms, innovation sits within tech, at others within knowledge. That is why it is sometimes difficult to gauge what an innovation head’s remit actually is and what you can expect them to be involved in. I think that is only natural in an emerging area. Each firm is figuring out what works for them and there is no right and wrong answer. I think it is exciting, because it means there is an opportunity to shape the role.
Butler Curtis: I agree. We need to do more to tell our clients about all the innovation that is happening on their matters. We are working to not just report on the outcome but also report on what new solutions, analytics, roles and technology were used to achieve the outcome and how these new solutions increased speed, accuracy and strategy.
Westland: I think the wider team does understand what clients are asking for and why a team such as mine is needed. I do think that IT sometimes wonders why it’s not them, but I don’t think innovation is something you can do on the side, whether you are a lawyer or in IT, which is why you need this dedicated resource.
All four innovation leads involved in this discussion are women. That wasn’t a conscious decision. Do you think the rise of innovation roles is helping drive gender diversity in the sector?
Bhandarkar: At Linklaters, our head of legaltech is a woman – Jas Mundae, our CTO is a woman, as am I, as the head of innovation. It’s quite remarkable really. As a general observation, I think it is true that women have risen to prominence in the innovation space, although I don’t really have a scientific explanation as to why. I’ve heard explanations along the lines of women are more creative and more collaborative – I’m honestly not sure I buy either – I work with some incredibly creative and collaborative men, too. The simpler, slightly more pragmatic, explanation might be that most of the innovation roles we are seeing in the market are filled by ex-lawyers. And there are just more women who have opted out of the profession than have men.
Parker: Over time, innovation will open up the profession to more diversity of all kinds – and true cognitive diversity is what drives innovation. In terms of gender diversity, I can only speak from our own experience. Our CDTO is a woman, our joint CLIO is a woman and our global innovation architect is a woman. In fact, of our GT&I leadership team over 50 percent are female – so our balance at Freshfields is very strong.
Butler Curtis: This is one of the aspects of my field that I find most rewarding. We are creating new roles, and bringing together people with different backgrounds and perspectives. We challenge assumptions. We work to find common language amongst team members each accustomed to speaking in their own vernacular. Then we create innovations that improve the satisfaction of clients and our colleagues. These efforts prove the incredible value of working with people who are more different than the same. It also gives people confidence and comfort in working with people who think differently than they do. We are supporting gender diversity but, more than that, we achieving success through inclusion in the broadest sense.
Westland: I run an associate secondee programme within innovation. Every associate that has come forward has been a woman. You could argue that what we do lends itself to stereotypical female skills around creativity and relationship building. Both those things are such generalisations. What I do know is that there does appear to be a wealth of women coming through at the moment, particularly in the magic circle firms. That’s a big change. It certainly wasn’t always the case.
What would you consider to be a mark of your success in the role?
Westland: For clients to see us as a trusted firm which offers modern, legal services and for those clients to be out in the market saying that they need to use Addleshaw Goddard for this type of work because we really get it, and because we deliver the best outputs. I would also like to see some of the technologies and processes we are implementing now become the norm – and maybe for my team to be double the size!
Bhandarkar: I think success would simply be getting people to be braver and more comfortable with trying new things, doing things differently to how they are done today to add value in how we deliver our service. If, in three years’ time, I have people coming up to me saying “do you remember when…?” – referring to a way of doing things that has since fundamentally changed – I think that will be a mark of success.
Butler Curtis: Our goal is constant improvement. I will have done my job in three years if we maintain the current level of commitment and pace of change we enjoy today.
Parker: Success, for me, will be if my job no longer exists and innovation is embedded in every member of the firm.
By Amy Carroll
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