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Under the hood: Baker McKenzie’s innovation programme

Added on the 10th Mar 2017 at 2:15 pm
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Major law firms are prone to sweeping mission statements when it comes to ‘innovation’ but if you look under the hood of Baker McKenzie’s recently announced global innovation programme there is more going for it than tieless committee meetings.

The top 10 global law firm said at the start of February that it will look to ‘design thinking’ – working with DC-based consultancy Peer Insight – to create and deploy a global innovation operating model. An international innovation committee led by tax head and global executive committee member Erik Scheer and global director of operations Jason Marty will speak bi-monthly remotely and meet twice a year in person to ensure that the circa 4250-lawyer firm is connecting the dots of its innovation efforts worldwide.

As a sub-committee of the executive body it is expected to have teeth but will be acting, according to Marty, “not as a police force but as a bridge from the global programme.”

The innovation framework is divided into multiple areas for investment, including machine learning, services transformation and technology investments. Innovation hubs will be developed across the network, with likely starting points to include Chicago and Manilla, where Bakers has a shared services centre.

Bakers intends its innovation programme to be client-led and so by necessity focussed where clients are. But of far greater interest is the fact that the design thinking element of the new programme means Bakers will be working with clients on an iterative basis to resolve their challenges in new and often tech-driven ways. Marty told Legal IT Insider: “We’re pretty ambitious but realistic and so design thinking is a methodology and approach to spur innovation. It emerged from product design but in other service industries has grown to support innovation and investment. It feels a bit new for legal but is not itself a new approach to services design and redesign. We are learning from other industries. The focus is to start a project and iterate quickly with clients around challenges. Not to introduce a whole new way around the way we practice.”

Bakers will begin by investigating some of the challenges faced by clients around transfer pricing. “Then we’ll move to another service and another,” said Marty. “The goal is to have a number of projects in play and to find ways to do things that have a bigger impact.”

He adds: “In this industry innovation is tricky partly because law firms need to accept some failure. The model we’re introducing hopefully encourages innovation. Working on a project by project basis, the obvious goal is to create momentum.”

In terms of the firm’s focus on machine learning and technology investments, there are interesting projects and discussions going on behind the scenes – particularly its emerging strategy for the latter, where it looks set to invest in new or emerging technology. 

As a matter of note, kCura’s Relativity is being deployed as a global eDiscovery platform, while Bakers is conducting pilots with Luminance, Kira Systems and eBrevia for contract review in due diligence. Speaking to Legal IT Insider Bakers’ global director of technology, Dan Surowiec said: “The plan is to have a recommendation this month: each have interesting features and strengths. Working through them has been an eye opener in terms of capability and applying that to how we practice, which is the key decision in terms of what works.”

Bakers is using Thomson Reuters ContractExpress for document automation and XRef (now merged with Microsystems) for legal drafting. The firm is focussing heavily on its knowledge and precedent offering, with a number of projects focussed on better knowledge sharing and storage, with Surowiec commenting: “We have internal projects around enhancing know-how and making it more available to users, easier to submit precedents and share among lawyers, and better tagged.

“We are wrapping up each use case in a different way. Some use machine learning in a more advanced way and some use natural language processing, really it’s about focussing on that end users experience so they can be efficient and productive.”

The firm is building out the data visualisation work it is doing for clients, where it is working with Tableau, and Surowiec adds: “One of the things I’m excited about is how we deliver legal services to clients including data visualisation. We’re changing the way we interact with clients to make it much more user friendly and relevant. We have had small pockets of work for about a year now but we are making great strides and finding that clients really like it so that work is developing very quickly.”

While Bakers’ strategy for further investment can be expected to crystalise in the coming months, it is clear that there will be some interesting developments in the not too distant future. Marty says: “Within legal services there is a reasonable expectation that we’ll place some bets on either new or emerging technology that can benefit from us working with them and we can benefit of build some project with a disruptor.”

While Bakers currently has no ringfenced R&D fund, Marty says: “There is a significant budget allocation for these programmes and the expectation internally is that if you are going to do these things it takes investment.”

Bakers has not ruled out the creation of a separate entity to head its investment in startups, although Marty adds: “It’s not the plan at this stage.”

At the risk of sounding childish, is it just us or does that sound equivalent to when your parents use to say: “Maybe”?!

This story first appeared in the February Legal IT Insider – click here to sign up for your free monthly copy: https://www.legaltechnology.com/latest-newsletter/

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