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Bringing business innovation to the legal sector

Companies are embracing new technologies, and legal firms need to embrace them too

“We have lots of people who are enthused by what technology has already brought to us over the last number of years, but also the potential of technology going forward.” Photograph: iStock

“We have lots of people who are enthused by what technology has already brought to us over the last number of years, but also the potential of technology going forward.” Photograph: iStock

 

Innovation in business needs to be companywide and usually comes from the top down. But how do law firms integrate innovation into their work practices and instil a collaborative culture that can meet modern-day challenges?

To be successful at this, for many law firms it’s about having buy-in from everyone in the organisation.

“For us, it’s important for everyone to feel that they are empowered to play a significant part using technology to deliver better client services,” says Charlie Carroll, client technology partner at A&L Goodbody.

“We have lots of people who are enthused by what technology has already brought to us over the last number of years, but also the potential of technology going forward,” he adds.

Companies are increasingly embracing new technologies and leaner ways of working, and they expect their legal services provider to be just as innovative.

McCann FitzGerald has called this “Progressive Delivery”, and Karyn Harty, partner at the law firm, says it fosters a culture that combines its deep legal, business and regulatory expertise with digital technologies, flexible resourcing and advanced project management skills.

“This approach allows us to deliver agile solutions that are tailored to our clients’ specific needs, in a cost-effective and transparent way,” she says.

Training our lawyers to think differently and think about clients in how they deliver innovation is another key part

Because of the adoption of technology, a technology model is more prevalent within current law courses, and, within A&L Goodbody’s bespoke programme, it looks to empower the next generation lawyers not just in legal fields but specifically commercial fields, and a technology model is a key part of that.

“We have hired people who are different to what we would call traditional lawyers, who are specifically what we call client technology lawyers – people who fit between the business and the lawyers to try to drive technology solutions for clients in a non-traditional way,” says Carroll. “We also look at the people coming up through the system. Law firms are apprenticeship models, and training our lawyers to think differently and think about clients in how they deliver innovation is another key part, so we have trainees to rotate into what we call our client technology group.”

In-house hackathon

A good example of how one firm promotes innovation and the integration of digital technologies across the firm is with McCann FitzGerald’s in-house hackathon, which was run last year in conjunction with a technology provider.

“This hackathon saw 11 teams of four people each develop and present concepts that create efficiencies for both their own practice areas and the firm as a whole. We championed something similar in March 2018 when the firm held the first of its kind event in Ireland – The Legal Apps Hackathon – targeted at third level students,” Harty says.

As well as this, the firm recently established a Legal Technology Solutions (LTS) division to drive change and innovation within the firm. “Ultimately, LTS exists to optimise the delivery of McCann FitzGerald’s legal expertise – driving progress for the firm and our clients by enhancing efficiency, cost-effectiveness and quality through the integrated deployment of digital technologies, advanced project management and flexible resourcing. From just 15 people, this division now employs 60 people in our firm,” she says.

But innovation does not have to be just about technology. Pinsent Masons was the first law firm to be ranked on the Stonewall best employers’ index, because of its culture of promoting diversity.

“We recognised at an early stage that to get the best people, the best thinkers, the most creative into a firm, you accept people for who they are and create an environment where they can thrive,” says Andreas Carney, technology partner, Pinsent Masons Dublin.

We find that some of the most creative people in the business are also some of the most experienced

“Getting on the index for the first time 11 years ago showed not only that we appreciated diversity, but that we wanted to measure ourselves. And of course, we haven’t stood still – we’ve just been ranked number 1 in the LGBT charities’ list of top 100 employers. And while this is a UK index, we see it as a reflection of the whole of our firm, across all of our international offices,” he adds.

Changing old attitudes

In terms of changing old attitudes that might perhaps be long entrenched in a company, he says it isn’t a question of age, but mindset.

“People might think that innovation can only come from the younger people in the business, the digital natives. They have great ideas, of course, but experience can bring with it a keen eye for opportunity. We find that some of the most creative people in the business are also some of the most experienced. They’ve spent a lot of time with clients, are close to them and can identify with their challenges,” he says.

Innovation is embedded in the company’s internal processes too, like recruitment and training, and Pinsent Masons applies it to its appraisal and promotion processes. If someone within the firm has a good idea, they are allocated “innovation hours”, “so they don’t feel like it’s something that they’re doing on top of their usual day-to-day. It’s an investment. That’s how important it is for us,” says Carney.

Overall, it’s vital that people within law firms are empowered and while leadership teams set the strategy and vision, they don’t have all of the answers.

“We are looking inwards to our people and outwards to our clients to design new solutions to new problems or existing problems and finding innovative ways to approach those, so not top-down in that sense. It’s top-down in the strategy sense but bottom-up in that we really want our people internally to challenge us to come up with new ways of working and for us to empower them not just to come up with the ideas but to design and roll out the solutions as well,” Carroll says.