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Law Firm R&D: Stories of Innovation

Law Firm R&D, Innovation
In 2013 nearly half-a-billion dollars was invested in legal startups and an analysis of the legal industry in the context of Porter’s Five Forces, shows there are competitive of pressures on the legal service industry from all sides.

For many the question isn’t whether to innovate or not – it’s how to innovate?  Like the cereal aisle at the grocery store, there are an abundance of options.  In a 2014 ILTA Conference session titled R&D in Law firms or Not (Stories of Innovation), we heard three examples from the panelists.

1. Training innovation comes in small packages.

William Caraher of Milwaukee-based von Briesen & Roper, S.C. noted the challenges of earning voluntary participation from attorneys for law firm training.  Ninety percent of attorneys do not participate in (non-CLE) law firm training noted Mr. Caraher.

The training solution for IT?  Make training bite-sized, or perhaps byte-sized.

The 120-attorney firm shuts down the IT helpdesk every Friday for 90 minutes – the scarcity helps creates demand.  Attorneys are invited to show up at the helpdesk to learn one task for just five minutes.  Once there, they recieve personalized training – often on a one-to-one ratio – which means the lawyers get to know the IT staff on a personal level.  In addition, participation is boosted through gamification – a competitive points system.  The IT staff members wear branded red shirts to promote the training event.

The results are substantial when the numbers are tallied up at year’s end. Five minutes of training a week over the course of 52 weeks translates into 4 hours of non-CLE training per year.

The initiative started by a chance conversation with a managing attorney who expressed an interest in learning the Microsoft® Excel® but couldn’t find the time amid the pressures of working on matters.

2.  Acquiring new talents to the organization 

Gerard Neiditsch of Allens says his Australian-based firm with 1,550 lawyers faces even more pressure on the billable hour model than its US-counterparts.  The organization is working towards developing service level agreements (SLAs) in response to client demands.

It’s a major innovation that will require several steps in preparation – one of which is re-engineering the IT organization. Mr. Neiditsch says he’s actively building out talent in business process in order to map the work performed by the attorney.  He noted his IT department is looking less at technical skillsets – he plans to rely on IT vendors for that expertise – and is solely focused on process experts.

3.  R&D as an additional law firm IT duty

Monroe M. Horn of Boston-based Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers LLP is adding automation to the “little things” that are adding up to big differences.

He noted IT has helped the firm automate the work flow to manage IP docketing and added automation to new client intake for example.  The automation for new client intake has improved data accuracy and compliance with firm policy and as reduced the time it takes to intake a new client from days to minutes.

Are these automation projects disruptive? No, says Mr. Horn, but over time they yield noteworthy savings on time and costs.  For example an email management project which cost the firm $26,000 paid for itself in five months earing an 18,000% ROI.

Mr. Horn says these projects amount to “informal R&D” and are the result from “our work on the side.”

* * *

What innovation stories have you heard – at ILTA or otherwise?  Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.  If you are here at ILTA and want to share a story in greater detail – please tweet to us @Business_of_Law and we’ll set up a time to chat while at the conference.

Photo credit: Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.
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