06 December 2019

Law firms missing out with 'misguided' innovation drive, GCs claim

Top GCs tell report that firms are failing to tailor technology for their needs

Law firms are so busy trumpeting their own misguided innovation efforts they are missing opportunities to help their clients solve their technology problems, a new report warns. The study, by UK-based research agency Pensar Media, also highlights concerns among leading GCs that law firms are undermining their collective efforts to appear forward-thinking by describing measures that are commonplace in other sectors as ‘innovative’.

In-depth interviews

The research is based on 24 in-depth interviews across the US and UK legal profession including with GCs, law firm leaders and innovation directors. ‘When it comes to innovation and law, beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ said Nick Hartigan, head of legal at Kier Group, the UK construction, services and property company. 'Within some law firms I know they feel they are hurtling forwards with an innovative agenda, and in fairness to them, they are trying very hard. On the flipside it could be observed that, in the broader context looking at other sectors, law firms are a long way from doing anything vaguely innovative.’

Generalist

Ben Wulwik, head of legal and transaction management at the UK challenger bank OakNorth, said law firm technology innovations were ‘often generalist and not tailored to a client’s specific business needs’.

He added: ‘They should invest time learning about their clients’ tech solutions and offering help around that... Right now we are investing heavily in our front office execution platform, and what we want is a law firm that asks what they can do to understand that, what they can do to add value to that, and how they can be best placed to be our “go-to” lawyers.’ 

Competition

However, the respondents noted that the arrival of new entrants into the market – collectively dubbed ‘alternative service providers’ – was making a difference.

‘The legal services value chain is coming undone and there are providers at almost every step of that value chain offering alternatives,’ said Bjarne Tellmann, general counsel and chief legal office at Pearson.

‘That makes the market very attractive for clients, as we’re able to farm out work in all different directions and lower our costs significantly. 

Combining ideas

Asked to define innovation, Kerry Phillip, legal director for Vodafone Business, said: ‘The word is misused—all too often we use ‘innovation’ to mean fixing the basics or improving processes. Innovation means combining ideas and thoughts in a new way to solve a problem. It does not have to be totally new—you can borrow from other industries and sectors—and it certainly does not have to use technology.’