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Making Innovation an Art in the Modern Law Firm

Mary Rechtoris

What does it mean to be innovative today? The term is most often used to describe organizations pushing the envelope with technology to drive efficiency throughout their business.

We hear the word innovation a lot—so often it begs the question: If everything is innovative, is anything innovative?

Bryant Isbell, managing director of global e-discovery and data advisory services at Baker McKenzie, laughed when I asked if the word innovation was cliché.

“In many ways, innovation has become a buzzword,” he said. “Often this is because when people think about innovation, they only think about technology. Bringing in and leveraging technology in new ways is certainly a part of innovation, but, it’s also much more than that.”

Encompassing More than Just the Tech

Baker McKenzie doesn’t only view innovation as pushing forth snazzy new technology (although that certainly plays a part). For the firm, innovation touches every part of their business and is a central part of the firm’s overall strategy.

As Bryant succinctly puts it, innovation is about “infusing everything, rather than being a bolt on.”

The firm lives and breathes innovation and the industry is taking note. Baker McKenzie earned the Innovation Award in new products and services in the Financial Times “2017 Innovative Lawyers: Europe” report.

On a global scale, Bryant noted they were the first law firm in the world to embrace design thinking and roll out machine learning technology. Most recently, Baker McKenzie hired David Cambria, known in legal circles as 'The Godfather' of legal operations as well as Casey Flaherty and Jae Um as director of legal project management and director of pricing strategy, respectively, to complement the firm's services teams.

“Being innovative is an art. It is about creating the law firm of the future today and redefining service delivery and reevaluating how you execute on projects,” Bryant said. “You can bring in all the technology in the world, but if you don’t build a robust strategy around the solution and bring it to life through talented, diverse people, it likely won’t be successful.”

The firm recognized technology’s potential in solving client challenges when coupling it with a well-developed strategy. To do this on a large scale, Baker McKenzie launched an innovation 'hub,' Whitespace Legal Collab, in Toronto in 2017.

Whitespace Legal Collab, at its core, is about collaboration. The hub serves as a place for various experts, not just lawyers, to convene and share their unique expertise to solve complex challenges that Baker McKenzie’s clients face.

Dera Nevin, a senior associate attorney in the firm’s information governance and e-discovery practice, is leading the charge behind bringing in professionals with diverse skillsets and areas of expertise.

“Through our innovation hubs and partnerships around the world, we have developers, academic professors, attorneys, and other experts come in and help us identify ways to move the needle in reaching a solution for our client,” Dera said. “We toss around ideas and look at new and different ways to approach a problem, whether that is redesigning a process, designing new technology, or leveraging existing technology differently.”

The firm has seen value in investing in innovation and continues to do so. In addition to Whitespace Legal Collab, Baker McKenzie is one of the founding sponsors of ReInvent Law, a legal innovation hub based in Frankfurt, Germany. ReInvent Law follows a similar model to Whitespace Legal Collab in that it brings in thought leaders with different expertise to tackle new issues surfacing in the world of legal tech.

Leveraging Tech in New Ways

The problems that firms’ innovation centers aim to tackle are not run-of-the-mill issues. They are often multifaceted, time-sensitive issues that directly impact their clients’ businesses.

“It’s really about client empathy—listening to what keeps our clients awake at night. That's the key,” Bryant said. “We have in-depth conversations with our clients to understand their challenge and the different factors exacerbating the issue. After we have a grasp on the issue at hand, we think about how to help them remain competitive in the market and provide the best service.”

For instance, the firm is looking to use their in-house legal technology tools to improve efficiencies for attorneys, such as enabling attorneys to get clients the information they need faster.

“The amount of time it takes to find a key piece of information can create friction between attorneys and their clients,” Dera added. “With our innovation hubs and partnerships and a truly innovative mindset applied right across the entire firm, we are looking to eliminate these types of industry-wide challenges and boost efficiencies in our clients’ businesses.”  

Moving forward, the firm aims to continue its path for innovation and think outside the box. They plan to use their in-house technology tools in new ways—a strategy that sets apart their services from their many competitors, and which will become increasingly crucial for law firms who want to keep up in this evolving, digitized landscape. 

“With innovation infused in our strategy, we are improving quality, value, and efficiency, and ultimately, helping our clients succeed around the globe,” Bryant said.

See Another Example of Today's Innovative Law Firm

Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.