KM and Law Firm Innovation

Innovation The Financial Times recently published an interesting report entitled, US Innovative Lawyers 2011.  I encourage you to read that report in its entirety soon.  In the meantime, here are some highlights and observations.

According to the report, FT’s researchers received 272 submissions (including from 53 AmLaw 200 firms) and interviewed more than 300 lawyers and clients to identify the most outstanding innovations.  Each submission was scored in terms of (1) originality , (2) the rationale behind the work, and (3) the impact of the work on the client, the industry or on business more broadly.

At the end of the day, which firms made the cut?  FT identified 26 firms in the US as truly innovative:

  • Davis Polk & Wardwell
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  • Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore
  • Paul Hastings
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Seyfarth Shaw
  • Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Dewey & LeBoeuf // Mayer Brown
  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher // White & Case
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
  • Dechert
  • Morrison & Foerster // Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  • Jones Day // Weil, Gotshal & Manges
  • Fulbright & Jaworski
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer // Proskauer Rose

What made these firms stand-out?  These firms say they rely on their culture and human capital to innovate.  In particular, they hire smart people who like to find new and better ways of solving problems for clients. One firm pointed to its lockstep compensation model, but since plenty of non-lockstep firms made the grade, that most likely is not the decisive factor. According to the FT report, the factors that distinguished the firms on the list from the others were “their commitment, their ability to adapt and to work together in the best interests of business to unusual and important effect.”

How can law firm knowledge management help?

While I don’t know the extent to which each of these firms relied on their knowledge management resources to foster innovation, the innovations reported suggest that KM can help make a firm and its lawyers more innovative in the following ways:

  • Much innovation arises from making small changes to what came before. In legal practice, this means we need to give our lawyers easy access to precedents and practice guides so that they have a solid foundation from which to innovate.
  • Innovation can go beyond specific matters to providing online information and advice on a subscription basis.  KM and library services can play an important role here in gathering the data for the client-facing resource.
  • Innovation with respect to the business of law can have a huge impact as well.  Seyfarth Shaw’s Lean Six Sigma efforts put the firm on FT’s list.
  • KM personnel and practices can help support alternative fee arrangements and project management efforts.
  • Jeffrey Carr, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, FMC Technologies, is a well-known advocate of changes in the legal industry.  Among other things, his in-house legal department has created a wiki to share legal advice internally and is developing M&A process maps.  Are you doing anything similar?

As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s worth your time to read the report in its entirety. While the specifics of each legal matter may not resonate for you, focus on how what you do (or should be doing) could help your firm get on that list and stay on that list.  The KM principles we espouse and the information we handle daily  can help bring about the innovation to which our firms should be aspiring.

 

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