The Law Firm Chief Innovation Officer

From the abstract for Michele Beardslee DeStefano, The Law Firm Chief Innovation Officer: Goals, Roles, and Holes (2018):

So many lawyers are sick of hearing that they must “innovate or die,” yet their clients call for innovation continues to be loud; and, although not clear, it is clearly resounding. Demand for innovation is old news; now, clients are going even further – requesting in pitch proposals (RFPs) that law firms demonstrate how they have innovated or how they will innovate or be innovative. Even those clients who do not use what might be better called ‘the i-word’ ask for it in other forms, including demanding cheaper, better, faster, services or asking for ‘collaboration’ within the firm, or with other competing law firms or legal services companies on projects and panels. Even more compelling evidence for the magnitude of this call? Clients who say they value innovation by their law firms and reward it or, worse yet, punish firms without it. General Counsels (GCs) have been consistent and clear: “If you don’t want to be an innovation partner with [them], then [they] are going to be inclined not to give you business.” In other words, collaboration towards innovation is no longer a higher standard – it is quickly becoming the standard requirement. True, as I have argued in my book Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation in Law, many clients have not been clear as to what they mean by innovation, nor have they quite figured out how to measure it. True, many law firms are unsure what they or their clients mean by innovation or what the ROI is on investing in innovation. But these – and other – ambiguities have not stopped law firms from answering their clients’ call by investing (in some way, shape or form) in innovation.

One way law firms are answering this call is by appointing, identifying or hiring someone in the role of what is sometimes called, the chief innovation officer (CINO), or some other title that signifies this person is the head of innovation. The very first time I heard of the role of CINO at a law firm was in April 2015. Inspired, I decided to investigate. Over the past couple years, I have interviewed more than 100 GCs, heads of innovation at law firms, and law firm partners to uncover what is meant by the hackneyed i-word in the law market, to understand lawyers’ views of innovation, and to explore the role of the CINO at law firms. One of the many questions I sought to answer was whether designating someone as the head of innovation at a law firm is an effective way to meet changing marketplace demands and satisfy clients’ expectations. This article explores that question along with others concerning the CINO role. It is divided into two parts. This part, Part 1, begins by overviewing the goals and roles of a law firm CINO as described to me by my interviewees. Part 2, to be published in January 2019, highlights the holes that I believe exist within and between the goals and the roles. It concludes by providing three recommendations to law firms to help mend the holes so that the roles are better leveraged and the goals are better met.

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