We speak with Alex Smith, innovation manager at Reed Smith, about rethinking legal services in Asia.
Alex Smith is Reed Smith’s first innovation manager. He heads up a physical and virtual programme of client-centric idea-generation and rethinking of legal service design.
Smith will be speaking at the upcoming Asia Legal Inno’Tech Forum in Singapore on March 14. We asked him a few questions about his thoughts on legal innovation in Asia.
Are there any differences you see in factors driving innovation within legal departments in Europe and Asia?
There are a number of core themes that resonate within legal departments in Europe and Asia, ranging from the need to strategically align functions around disruption, be it from technology, new business models or agile revolution; quality and value, including efficiency of legal work and automation; and around collaboration and cross-functional teams.
As you might expect though, there are slightly different dynamics around change in each region or location. The Singapore government is a strong driver behind the legal industry’s adoption of technology innovation. Singapore Academy of Law’s (SAL) recent launch of the Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP), which aims to bring together lawyers, technopreneurs, investors, academics, and regulators and encourage the adoption of technology and drive innovation, demonstrates the city’s commitment to modernising legal services.
Identifying clear differences in the approach between regions is difficult, however. Many law firms, legal teams and companies now are international and as such have global pulls and strategies that are adopted from other jurisdictions which inevitably have somewhat differing approaches to legal innovation.
At Reed Smith, we take a global approach to innovation but are contextual to our local environment. We recognise that technology is an enabler, not a creator of innovation and that we should connect innovation to empathy, understanding, listening and creativity to bring quality business solutions, not just legal answers.
What groundwork does a legal department need to do to start their innovation journey?
Innovation is contextual to what you need to achieve. Starting an innovation journey is less about outlining your strategy and more about defining your purposes and vision. As a legal department, it corresponds to the dynamics in your business too — redefining your team’s role may actually be easier if your business itself is changing due to market pressures. Once you have established your mission, it is about enabling your people to have the time and creative skills to be curious in finding new ways to achieve the mission.
Making the first step is often hard as there is a tendency to overthink innovation, having clear strands of innovation to focus on is key — for example focus on efficiency separately from new high growth initiatives. Focusing on the user — whether that be an internal business person or a client — and understanding them, the way they work and what makes them tick, allows you to not only solve problems but also design solutions that help both them and you. At Reed Smith we take the approach of starting small and, along the way, find ways to experiment and measure progress.
What are some of the universal challenges to legal innovation you see everywhere?
Culture and change management continue to be two notable challenges to legal innovation. The legal sector has been quick to look to technology to drive innovation. However, while a shift towards technology may suit other sectors, an over reliance can pose threats and challenge to ours by distracting us and our clients from what really matters.
Despite certain perceptions in the media about lawyers and their behaviour, ultimately, we are problem solvers. It is what we are best at. The issue at hand is identifying which problem needs solving. In order to truly understand the problem that needs solving, we believe that innovation techniques such as empathy, insight, understanding, co-creation and established approaches like service design, are superior to solely relying on technology. Prioritising these approaches, and coupling them with a problem-solving mind set and the support of technology, is how legal teams can really add value for clients.
Another challenge that has been facing legal innovation is a lack of external professionals entering the sector. The answer is not just start-ups and legal tech; instead, the sector needs to house a healthy variety of skills to create multi-disciplinary teams in order to truly drive legal innovation.
What are you looking forward to at the Legal Inno’ Tech Forum?
I am looking forward to discussing Reed Smith’s people-centred approach to innovation. We prioritise listening and empathy when it comes to understanding our clients’ problems, and then co-create solutions to resolve them.
Personally, I am looking forward to gauging how dynamic and energised the region is by change and to understanding what issues and techniques are being prioritised in given the prevalence of legal technology and innovation.
Alex Smith will be speaking at the Asia Legal Inno’ Tech Forum in Singapore on the March 14, 2018. The forum is open to all legal professionals to attend — limited seats are available (free for in-house counsel). Register Here.