A connected approach to innovation

You don't get to be the oldest global law firm by being old school. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP has been around almost three centuries, and it is certainly not in their plans to quit just because a digital transformation and the liberalisation of the legal market has introduced new competition

August 31, 2020

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A connected approach to innovation

You don't get to be the oldest global law firm by being old school. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP has been around almost three centuries, and it is certainly not in their plans to quit just because a digital transformation and the liberalisation of the legal market has introduced new competition. On the contrary, Freshfields are part of the International avantgarde when it comes to reinventing legal services with the use of new innovation strategies and modern legal tech.

Connected innovation

They have developed a concept they call a “connected approach to innovation” or simply “connected innovation” which is “not purely about technology” but the “combined power of people, processes and tech.” That means they are inviting their clients to co-develop and collaborate on their innovative initiatives which include a hub, a client experience lab and an upcoming legal service platform. To learn more about their connected approach and the benefits of client-driven innovation. Legal Tech Weekly has had a chat with Freshfields' Chief Legal Innovation Officer, Isabel Parker.

“Our digital transformation strategy can be envisioned as is sort of a pyramid. It has three layers. The bottom layer is Stabilise, the middle is Modernise, and the top is Transform. The size of each of these strata decides how far we are in terms of our maturity. Over time, the pyramid will invert so we have more in the Transform layer than in the Stabilise layer. But, as is the case with many law firms, we have some legacy systems that we need to address. The portfolio of change needs to be balanced – but it also all needs to happen at the same time. We can't wait to stabilise before we transform. We have to be moving very quickly because our competitors are moving quickly, and our clients expect us to move quickly,” Isabel Parker explains.

She then moves on to elaborate on the strata of the pyramid: “In the stabilising layer, we have our infrastructure, data centres and cloud strategy. In the middle, we are modernising our user-experience - which essentially means the hardware and software our lawyers use to do their job. We are upgrading all that currently in a huge UX-program, so our firm will be equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology. And then in the Transform layer where our innovation team operates, that is where we focus on client-facing legal technology. The reason that we have invested so much capability in that space is that our clients are all undergoing that same digital transformation. In every sector we are being asked by our clients, what are the legal and regulatory impact of the digital transformation. We started to gain traction in the market for our legal advisory skills, and it became clear that the clients were looking for us to demonstrate how we were ourselves transforming the business. We have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk,” she says.

The Transform layer is further divided into three different initiatives that summarise their connected innovation strategy. One is the Freshfields Hub that is spread across Machester, Germany and Hong Kong. In the hub, they bring lawyers and technologists together to service their clients with more process-oriented work on for example E-Discovery and Due Diligence. Another is the Freshfields Lab in Berlin, which is a client experience and R&D space. That is the concept where Isabel Parker believes Freshfields differentiate themselves from their competitors in the market: “We believe we have the best lawyers in the world, and we want to use that legal knowledge in conjuncture with technology to build products that serve our clients. Sometimes on a matter basis where the matters are so big that they can't be delivered without making use of smart technology. Sometimes we are simply looking at our clients' businesses and how they are being disrupted to see how we can support them in that journey. The lab is the R&D function where we meet clients and co-develop products.”

The first lab is situated in a start-up environment in Berlin's hip Kreuzberg neighbourhood, and next year another will be established in their new offices in London.Also in development is a legal service platform where they can collaborate more seamlessly with their clients.

How is it that you benefit from collaborating so closely with your clients?

“It is about serving the clients in the best way we can. We don't collaborate with the clients simply to build products for additional revenue. The purpose is to serve our clients better. Every innovative organisation outside legal that has been successful, has focused on client experience and has been committed to what the clients really want. In law, historically, we have been too ready to tell the client what we think he or she needs: Here is the matter, here is how we will fix it, this is the price we will charge you. Thank you very much and goodbye! But that is not the best way to deliver service to clients. By collaborating with the clients we get to understand them better. The closer we can get to them the better.”

You have decided to place yourself in a startup environment. How come?

It's not just in Berlin. We are also very active in London, and we sponsor the Legal Geek conference which is the biggest legal tech conference in Europe. We have been there since the beginning because we recognise that we needed to understand more of how legal tech is changing. We are constantly horizon scanning for the best off-the-shelves products, so we already have a base in London. A large part of our firm is based in Germany and Berlin has a very thriving tech community. Our lab is placed in a co-working space in Kreuzberg where some of our clients are already working, plus strong corporate partners like McKinsey and some very interesting startups too. We want to learn how to be more innovative and create an innovation culture, so we are pleased to be part of that ecosystem.”

Encouraging innovation

Isabel Parker believes that a significant part of their success comes from the fact that they have imported a number of concepts and frameworks from outside the legal industry: “Instead of associates and lawyers in the firm coming up with an idea for a new product, client service or technology, and simply send it over to IT and then walk away, we created a structure where the associates will be generating their idea, and then have to co-develop their technology product with our developers,” she explains and then elaborates:

“That is a completely new way of working for our lawyers who often have never developed a business case. They never thought about customer ownership of a product, about client-testing before you launch something. They never thought about how you market it, brand it, price it. It's giving them a whole new set of skills. Is it easy to implement? No. It's new. It's tricky. But we see that it is starting to bear fruit. They have a better understanding of our portfolio of products. We make sure the innovations are adding proper value. It's a very helpful way of encouraging innovation. That is something that really differentiates us in the market and we believe will really bear fruit in the coming years,” Parker concludes.

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