Innovation, change and the next 70 years
Queen Elizabeth II has now sat on the throne for 70 years, a milestone celebrated across the UK and the Commonwealth last weekend. Much has changed in these seven decades. And as the world now faces war, inflation, impending recession and the lingering challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it may be worth asking where will we be – and where will your law firm be – in 70 years?
Law firms are notoriously slow to change, but these days you’d be hard-pressed to find a firm that doesn’t claim to embrace innovation. Some are more successful than others, but most understand that to ensure longevity and success in a highly competitive industry like law, innovation is essential.
Of course, innovation doesn’t follow a straight line and mistakes happen more often than most care to admit. That’s what Jessica Seah found out when reporting her fascinating story of Terra Luna’s recent $40 billion crashthe stablecoin that lost its peg to the dollar last month, costing investors millions of dollars.
The crypto industry is angry and lawsuits are coming, writes Jess, though it’s unclear whether investors will have much recourse in what remains a largely unregulated industry. Cryptocurrency can be risky, but many argue that its benefits are worth it. Even Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who used the stablecoin’s collapse to warn retail investors against investing in cryptocurrency, admitted that digital currency could transform finance.
Lawyers told Jess that this conundrum illustrates the growing pains of crypto, but Luna’s collapse doesn’t spell the end of all digital assets. “They had a unique product that failed,” said Benjamin Bai, legal director of digital asset firm Amber Group, of the creators of Luna. “But that still doesn’t change the fact that it was a great invention. .”
Still on the innovation front, digital tokens are emerging as a third asset class in M&A deals, alongside cash and equities, said Norton Rose’s global digital transformation co-leader Fulbright, Nick Abrahams, says Christopher Niesche. And lawyers will increasingly have to know how to manage them, he said. The Sydney-based tech lawyer, who is also an innovator, entrepreneur and futurist, believes the use of digital tokens will become mainstream over time. Young lawyers with the right NFT and crypto expertise have a “huge opportunity,” he says, as they will be increasingly needed.
But the love of innovation, at least in the legal world, can actually lead companies down the wrong path. In fact, the chief innovation officer of one of Canada’s largest law firms is calling for the term “legal innovation” to be banned. It’s not because she’s against innovation, of course, but because she thinks many have lost sight of what innovation means. Law.com International Gail Cohen writes that Judith McKay, chief client and innovation officer at McCarthy Tétrault, and her colleague, David Cohen, who is the firm’s senior director of client service delivery, found that the legal industry is “focusing on innovation for innovation’s sake,” rather than on finding creative ways to generate value for customers.
And McKay and Cohen aren’t alone. Chris Bentley, managing director of Toronto-based incubator Legal Innovation Zone, told Gail that there’s often too much emphasis on technology – that sometimes all that’s needed is a simple solution to help lawyers and their clients reach their goals faster and more affordable. True innovation, say the three, is not necessarily about revolutionary new technology, but rather about bringing new products, services and approaches to customers in previously unanticipated ways, often with incremental improvements on existing products.
And while law firms think they’re embracing innovation, most are hampered by their structure, Bentley said. Their traditional approach to profit sharing means they are less likely to use revenue for research and development, he said. Therefore, they don’t accomplish much. Companies that have created ancillary businesses focused on legal solutions for clients are more likely to succeed, he said. That seems to be what Norton Rose Fulbright had in mind. The firm said last week he launches a legal tech subsidiary designed to provide a dedicated home for legal technology development as well as collaborations with external legal technology vendors and alternative legal service providers.
Finally, even the dreaded and revered privacy advocate (depending on who you are) Max Schrems says he may not need to file so many complaints against companies that violate the General Privacy Regulation. data, commonly referred to as GDPR – the pioneering European privacy law of 2018 – if only local law enforcement could use the technology already available to do their jobs. Instead of automating their execution procedures, many are doing it manually, he told Linda Thompson in an enlightening interview.
Regulators should think like a startup, ask themselves how they can use technology to scale a procedure, he said, noting that instead they run their procedures as if they were in the 18th century. Incidentally, Schrems also explained to Linda what he thinks it will take to create a culture of privacy compliance, not only in Europe, but also among Big Tech companies in the United States and around the world. the whole world. I highly recommend you read Linda’s interview with Schrems, accessible here.
Sometimes, observing the legal industry closely, we come across lawyers who are considered true innovators. Often this is highlighted in their obituaries – a fact I was reminded of twice recently.
Last week, the legal community unexpectedly lost Scott Simpon, partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher and Flomwas described by his colleagues as “a true pioneer”. The 65-year-old partner, co-head of the firm’s global deals, is widely credited with gaining acceptance of US law firms as major players in European deals. Slaughter and May’s former senior partner, Christopher Saul, called Simpson “a truly innovative legal thinker.” Charlie Geffen, retired partner of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, described him as “a true innovator”. You can read the many tributes to Simpson in the Law.com International story here.
And two weeks ago, Law.com International Latin America correspondent Amy Guthrie reported that White and Case partner Vicente Corta has died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 57. Corta, considered an integral partner in the business, has been widely credited with saving Mexico’s banking and pension systems from near ruin. Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, who is now an attorney in White & Case’s Mexico City office, underscored how innovative Corta was by paraphrasing a quote attributed to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, considered a perfect metaphor for innovation. “He knew how to skate where the puck was going, not where it was,” Garza said.
But we don’t need to read obituaries to remember where we’ve been and where we’re going. In a week of reflecting on innovators, longevity, and change, we learned that Nigel Boardman, a longtime M&A powerhouse, has ended his 49-year career in law after completing his consultancy work at Slaughter and May. This news followed the report that famed tax partner Steve Edge had stepped down from partnership with the company, again after nearly 50 years with the company.
And to Herbert Smith Freehills, former global CEO Mark Rigotti, who retired from the partnership a month ago, announced he was leaving the company after 26 years to take up a management position with an Australian business group. Rigotti is credited with overseeing the successful post-merger integration of Herbert Smith and Freehills and a period of significant expansion in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States.
Meanwhile, in Japan – a country where change has historically happened so gradually that it often goes unnoticed –rookie law firm aspires to become a powerhouse in the legal community that has long been dominated by Japan’s “big four” firms.
Yes, the legal industry is changing.
Another notable change was illustrated this week with the announcement by Herbert Smith Freehills that it will serve as WorldPride 2023’s main legal adviser, the world’s largest gay pride celebration. For the global firm to take on such a mandate is not, in itself, a sign of a transformation of an industry – or even of a law firm – nor of innovation. But the fact that the company is proudly announcing it, and that the announcement comes at the start of Pride Month – and from Justin D’Agostino, the company’s openly gay CEO – says a lot about how which the industry is changing.
Of course, the industry still has to move, keep changing, keep innovating – a fact underscored by two stories about women. Law.com International has conducted new research which has found that top UK law firms hire far more female lawyers than men at articling level, but there is a massive drop in female retention after the point three-year post-qualification. Read Varsha Patel’s story of the findings, which unfortunately aren’t all that surprising to most of the industry, here. Additionally, in Canada, a new report from a legal recruitment firm and the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association found that there is still a significant pay gap between male and female corporate lawyers in Canada.
So as Queen of England the reign of seven decades is celebrated With pomp and circumstance, now is a good time to reflect on the changes the legal industry has seen since the mid-20th century, and the other changes to come – tomorrow, the next day and decades from now. Tell me, please: where do you imagine your law firm will be in 70 years?