Report from Innovative Legal Services Forum 2019 – It’s Time to Get Started with Innovation

For the third time the event Innovative Legal Services Forum was arranged in Prague last week. The whole conference day focused on innovation from both a technology and a business view. Several speakers tried to define innovation since there is a lot of talk about legal innovation amongst law firms but not that much true innovation.

Pavel Krkoska from SingleCase defined it as follows. “The real innovation is giving customers better services for better price.”

And Maria J González-Espejo Garcia from Emprendelaw (and also ELTA Vice President), who gave an interesting speech around innovation and digital transformation, defined innovation as: “The process through which a new idea of invention is applied to create value and satisfy the need and expectations of the customers.”

This means that in the legal industry, innovation can be applied to new type of services, new processes in services or new management such as marketing and sales, finance, KM etc. It is not enough buying technology, just doing what others are doing or saying in the media that something is innovative. In order to become innovative in the organisation you have to challenge several issues such as lack of time, resistance to change, lack of financial resources etc.

We also had an example of true innovation from Lauren Riley, who is a founder of the Link App that redefines client communication, moving lawyers and clients away from e-mail to be able to communicate in a more secure and efficient way.

Simina Mut from Deloitte Legal gave some practical insights in how to tackle legal tech challenges by experimenting, communicating and collaborating. That way she had been successful when working with legal tech development. She also stressed the importance of having the right focus, which is not on the lawyer or the legal issues. Instead focus should be on the business and how to solve business problems.

Brian Kuhn from IBM Watson Legal also stressed the importance of becoming more client-centric and focus more on the customer experience. He argued this with the following quote: “The last, best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.”

Even if he emphasized the opportunities with AI, he stressed that it is not the technology itself that is the disruptor of any industry. Technology is only an enabler. Instead focus should lie on the client and the client service. The biggest threat to the industry is not being enough client-centric. He exemplified this with new businesses built on new technology solutions;

  • Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, ridiculous late fees did.
  • Uber did not kill the taxi business, limited access and fare protectionism did.
  • Apple did not kill the music industry, being forced to buy full length albums did.
  • Airbnb isn´t killing the hotel industry, limited availability and pricing options are.

Based on the customer needs, both law firms and legal departments now has an opportunity to build AI solutions that is personalized, that deliver real value and reduces cost. That way they can truly support the business to solve business problems.

He presented a study showing how the legal industry have changed to a buyer´s market for legal services. Law firms no longer should focus on the competition with other law firms. Instead we can see a new market for legal services with several new players. The biggest competitors to law firms today are the in-house legal teams. Instead of turning to law firms for their legal services supporting their company, they build their own legal team internally. Besides that, law firms are now competing with the “Big 4” (auditing firms), Legal Service Providers (LSP) and with legal tech solutions.

This trend was also stressed by Maria J González-Espejo Garcia. She emphasized the need for innovation in law firms since the competition these days does not come from other law firms but from other legal services providers. In order to keep up with these new providers, law firms have to be innovative. This means they have to look at it from a strategic view, look at new available technology that can be suitable and make a clear strategic plan with resources allocated to it.

Even if technology is very much in focus when talking about law firm innovation, there seemed to be a consensus that the true potential in innovations in law firms is in business innovation, not in technology innovation. Technology can support business innovation but focus then lies on the business process.

If you truly want to innovate you have to focus on the people. Orsolya Görgényi gave an interesting presentation explaining the skills needed to innovate in legal services and the importance of continuous learning and development. Preparing for the future when we have AI solutions supporting us in the legal work, replacing some of the activities previously handled by lawyers, we have to look at the crucial new skills of future-proof lawyers.

This means we need to focus on skills such as project management, creativity and people skills.

Orsolya Görgényi shared a great quote by Jaap Bosman from TGO Consulting: “Not all hours are created equal.”

This is all a matter of prioritisation. Spending your time on creative work is much more valuable in the long term than on billable hours such as producing legal documents…

There were also several other interesting speakers and panellists during the day which ended with a brilliant closing key-note speech by Jordon Furlong.

He described five legal innovative success stories based on ideas such as “there has to be a better way to do this”, “I never knew I wanted it until it was offered to me” and “let´s sell what our clients are buying” making it clear you have to do things differently if you will truly innovate.

Jordan Furlong  summarised four keys to successfully initiate innovation:

  • Engage in change leadership.
  • Know your innovation constituency.
  • Measure what matters.
  • Innovation is its own justification.

You do not need a reason to innovate! Therefore, it is important to now take that first step, to collaborate and to be brave.

Just get started!