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The "I" in Legal Tech: One Law Firm's Innovation Playbook

Kelly Velisek

Depending on the source, the legal market is said to be either flush with innovation or stagnating in aging practices. Although the scope is somewhat murky, the term “innovation” is a buzzword that has become pervasive in the law firm industry. Not unlike Schrödinger's cat, law firm innovation is both dead and alive until the box is opened and the truth is revealed.

As with any technology adoption lifecycle bell curve, there is undeniably a front-running group in the case of law firm innovators. Reed Smith, for example, has made great leaps in creating a culture of innovation and living that culture throughout the firm.

To understand the driving forces behind their innovation strategy, we talked with Bryon Bratcher, managing director of GravityStack, the firm’s newly launched technology subsidiary, and Alex Smith, Reed Smith’s Innovation Hub manager.

In an industry where everyone wonders what everyone else is doing, Reed Smith has embarked on a journey without looking back to see who is following.

Why Innovation is Becoming the New Standard

Why the focus on innovation? Firms are finding that they can no longer compete successfully on relationships and history alone.

In the 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market through Georgetown Law, the Legal Executive Institute, and Peer Monitor, the organizations found that “dynamic” firms outperformed “static” firms. To be considered dynamic, firms needed to work proactively to address the needs of clients at least in part through the application of innovative technologies.

Still, the Reed Smith methodology typifies a dichotomy in law firm innovation today. It’s easy for a firm to innovate in name only, but what Reed Smith does particularly well is ensuring their commitment to innovation has transcended messaging into culture and practice.

Firms that are truly dynamic show evidence of a multi-faceted change in culture and practice—they’re changing their culture from the inside. One impression we found interesting was how the Reed Smith culture is very similar to many technology companies: all available resources are applied to solve customers’ problems and the most innovative solutions come from collaboration between smart and driven people of many backgrounds.

Providing Data-Driven Technology Solutions with GravityStack

Well aware of this opportunity—and the risk of not embracing it—Reed Smith launched GravityStack earlier this year, a spin-off technology subsidiary that focuses on providing data-driven legal solutions to their clients.

GravityStack’s vision helps to redefine value in the legal industry by combining unique data insights with the most experienced legal process and human expertise. The team incubates technology solutions with Reed Smith and its customers throughout the world prior to commercial release to the market—a model that ensures their offerings are demand-led and offer true solutions to real world legal and business problems.

“Decision makers in litigation, compliance, and transactional law are flooded with technology options, and constantly pressured with tight budgets and deadlines,” Bryon explained. “GravityStack will help corporate and law firm clients analyze their current technology offerings from a consultative approach, while recommending and implementing new systems to consider.”

While not the first law firm development incubator, GravityStack is unique in the sense that they will also develop new solutions alongside Reed Smith’s clients.

GravityStack already has five products in the marketplace, including Periscope, an award-winning e-discovery business intelligence (BI) platform. The tool collects and integrates data within Relativity and provides clients with real-time views of the cost, productivity, and quality of document reviews.

Their newest product, Pipeline, is a project management application developed with a lofty, but crucial, goal: eliminating unnecessary emails and meetings. Users can produce better results in M&A and corporate development projects—getting real-time visibility into project status, workflows, and handoffs without ever leaving the platform. This accompanies stack-et, their legal technology and operations ticketing system to organize and systematize customer requests.

“We’ve always taken a client-first approach at Reed Smith,” Bryon said. “GravityStack provides us another opportunity to link people to data and technology solutions to solve their complex challenges more intelligently.”

Creating a Space for Innovation

While technology has always been a core focus area for Reed Smith, another big part of their innovation strategy involves collaboration—and fostering the right environment to do so.

After joining the firm in 2016, Alex Smith helped to launch two Innovation Hubs that focus on collaborating alongside Reed Smith lawyers and external clients to unlock new opportunities for developing technology solutions.

“These unique spaces we’ve created are centrally located in our firm’s offices and promote collaboration between colleagues and clients,” Alex said. “However, at their core, the hubs create an environment to test new technologies.”

One of the main driving forces that led Reed Smith toward the creation of Innovation Hubs was the opportunity to develop new tactics alongside the firm’s clients.

“Asking questions like ‘What are you trying to achieve?’ and ‘What’s the need behind this problem?’ has enabled our team to begin process mapping on how we deliver on collaborative, problem-solving toolkits,” Alex explained.

Reed Smith’s strategy—one they’ve coined a “layered approach”—starts with asking open questions and creating bold dialogue between the firm and their array of clients before implementing any solutions. One facet of this strategy involves a client listening program, which enables Reed Smith’s lawyers, technologists, and innovation team to understand their clients on a deeper level, including both the technical and business-related issues they face.

Inviting one of their clients, BBC Worldwide, into one of their Innovation Hub spaces to participate in process-focused sessions led to new ideas and creating pilot programs focused on how BBC Worldwide could implement automation tools into their everyday work.

“In this case, the client had an interest in automating and streamlining some of the work they were doing,” Alex said. “Our team provided the information, data, and intelligence on new technology on how to do so, but ultimately, we want our clients to walk away with the confidence to formulate and crystalize their own unique approach on how to tackle their problems.”

Armed with this insight and methodology, Reed Smith is better equipped to find technology solutions that solve the problem from start to finish.

More recently, the firm launched and then expanded a program for its attorneys encouraging innovation: Reed Smith will recognize up to 50 innovation hours toward an attorney’s billable hours goal.

The program has allowed for some unique collaborations between teams focused on delivering results to the firm’s clients—and involving unexpected collaborators from around the firm has brought unique ideas for solving client problems that would’ve been difficult to come to in a vacuum.

Setting the Stage

At Relativity, we have the benefit of working with a community that’s hungry for innovation and ready for the challenge of embracing it.

With tools like RelativityOne available to help make this type of tech-forward strategy easier and easier to kick off, it’s an especially exciting time to see how some legal teams are leaping ahead of the pack when it comes to truly innovative thinking.

Let us know how your team is spearheading the next wave of e-discovery transformation. We can’t wait to hear your story.

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Kelly Velisek is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, where she specializes in customer advocacy.

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