What if… Lawyers aren’t Innovating?

Do lawyers innovate?Artificial Lawyer has asked the question What If…Big Law Pulled The Plug On Legal Innovation?

This is perhaps a hypothetical question (I don’t think any Big Law firm will be willing to admit they are no longer innovating even if they are not) but it apparently arose because:-

In the last few weeks we have seen a number of people leave Big Law tech and innovation roles, an innovation leadership job at one firm folded into a broader less tech-focused management role, and figures in the legal innovation world jumping ship for new locations.

This has led to some people asking: is something going on? I.e. is there some kind of pushback on legal innovation within Big Law, especially in the UK’s version of it, the City of London-based firms?

On face value it would seem that the moves are not directly related. But, it raises the fascinating theoretical discussion point: what would happen if Big Law pulled the plug on legal innovation?

Artificial Lawyer says they won’t. He thinks:-

that things have moved too far now to be returned to the old ways. Clients have got wise to what’s possible now, their perceptions have changed – at least at the larger banks, corporates and insurance companies….

There is no turning back now, even if from time to time a firm may decide to pause things while they think through their business strategy.

Artificial Lawyer rounds up with:-

So, what will we see then? This all seems inevitable:

  • Greater use of automation for routine tasks, whether via no code workflow systems, or NLP/ML review platforms, and other tech, including now in litigation work via NLG.
  • Greater crystallisation and availability of legal data and KM – which in turn helps to feed efficiency and automation of process tasks.
  • The need to refigure legal labour and create your own process centres, or work closely with ALSPs.
  • More focus on fixed fees and the removal of the billable hour. And more focus on standardisation of work ‘products’.
  • And, at least with inhouse legal teams, more focus on creating standard docs/templates/clause banks and bringing in associated tech to support their use.
  • And also, clients increasingly looking for a tech component to a solution from law firms, to drive efficiency and reduce costs, in every major piece of work.

Well, blow me down if anything on that list is innovative!

Wikipedia states:-

Innovation in its modern meaning is “a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method”. Innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. Such innovation takes place through the provision of more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are made available to markets, governments and society. An innovation is something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.

None of the things on the foregoing list is an original or new idea. Certainly not ones that break into the legal market or society. Surely these are all things that most law firms have been doing or should have been considering doing for some considerable time? Document automation has been with us for well over 20 years. Moving away from the billable hour has been on the table for maybe nearly as long. These are not new. Actual implementation of these existing and proven innovations may be new to some law firms of course.

I know I have suggested that Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve. But even I wouldn’t suggest they would be innovating by tackling anything on that list.

However, this is not to say that Big Law are not innovating. It is no doubt those that are doing it quietly that are. We might not for now be able to put those innovations on a list.

But the reality is (and especially so if we take Artificial Lawyer’s list as setting the bar) that most law firms (including Big Law ones) simply have to improve on what they are already doing rather than worry about innovating as such.

Is it not, therefore, the case that law firms aren’t, on the whole, innovating so there is no plug for Big Law to pull on that?

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