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Leading to drive change and deliver value in an evolving legal ecosystem

Andrew Bowyer

The Legal Innovation Forum launched in the United States with its first event in Chicago on June 22nd, 2023. iManage is the forum’s founding partner in the US.

The forum convened 90 decision makers from law firms, legal departments, and their third-party service providers.

Speakers included: Neil Araujo, CEO, iManageDouglas Barnard, General Counsel, CF Industries; Vania Montero, Deputy General Counsel, United Airlines; Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft; Kruti Trivedi, Executive Director and Assistant General Counsel, JPMorgan Chase; Amol Bargaje, Global Chief Innovation Officer, Mayer Brown and Brooke Loucks, Director, Brand and Communications, McDermott Will & Emery.    

The forum’s theme was: Leading to drive change and deliver value in an evolving legal ecosystem and our discussions throughout the afternoon centered around this concept.

When I founded the Legal Innovation Forum in 2018, I centered it around the concept that collaboration is the key driver of innovation in the legal ecosystem. To support this, our programs (conferences, workshops, and webinars) aim to include (and amplify) diverse voices from law firms, legal departments, and third-party partners.

Another important approach of the forum is tying the legal innovation story to the larger business context of where business and law intersect. And – more broadly – how these stories from the legal ecosystem are influencing and interacting with the macro business context.

To help bring some of these concepts to life, here are some key themes from our recent Chicago forum.

The people puzzle - attracting, retaining and developing talent in a new paradigm

  • A shifting economic landscape is changing the game when it comes to talent. While salaries remain up and hybrid work is here to stay, shifts are emerging as the economy slows. Lawyers are being asked to be in the office more, not only to sustain organizational culture, but also because their clients want them to be there. Employee satisfaction with their work presents a clear challenge for legal leaders to address. And the ongoing quest for purpose (and legal employers providing it) in legal practitioners’ careers is another trend.

  • The career lattice. Career paths available in the legal sector are no longer linear but are now dynamic. The emergence of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs), technology companies, and new line law firms (and business lines within them) all present challenges to the traditional model. Organizations who embrace advanced approaches to leveraging people, process, and technology will accelerate their competitive edge as the legal ecosystem evolves.

  • Lateral approaches, the rise of technology, and generational shifts. Legal sector employers and practitioners need to embrace creative and lateral approaches in terms of how they operate and how lawyers approach their work. Those who embrace these shifts with a collaborative, growth-driven mindset are set to win in our evolving paradigm.

Leading at the intersection of business and law - how are leading lawyers in key sectors driving growth in their organizations? 

  • What’s keeping leading general counsel up at night. Our speakers noted that a balance is required between managing external risks and internal organizational dynamics. Mastering external risks around ESG, cybersecurity, and data; the rise of AI; and reputation management were noted as critical external drivers. Internal risks highlighted include: attracting and retaining talent, optimizing the legal function in the wider organization, and managing labor relations.

  • How are legal functions innovating to meet organizational requirements? Building a succession-focused legal team that is flexible, business focused, and open to learning experiences across the organization is crucial. This includes leveraging the unique value of lawyers' experiences as trusted advisors across the business. Leaders must also continue to manage the fine balance between supporting business growth and being the backstop for mitigating organizational risks.

Mastering digital risk - how to define, develop, and implement a strategy to navigate emerging digital risks

  • The emergence of generative AI is significantly increasing digital risk for organizations. While generative AI holds transformative potential across all sectors, it also poses several critical challenges. These include employee misuse of AI tools; potential disputes about rights and consent to data use; and creating defensible frameworks for the use of AI platforms. How legal departments and law firms help create workable frameworks in a new AI-driven world is a crucial story to watch for the sector in the coming years.

  • Defining and implementing an effective risk mitigation strategy when it comes to data. A shifting regulatory landscape is a key driver of digital risk and lawyers. Lawyers also need to be aware of the risk of breaches, agreements with third parties, and increased danger of litigation due to the explosion of data within organizations.

How to make the business case for and deliver change in your law firm/legal department

  • Fundamentals for effective change management in legal departments. Those effecting change in organizations first must deeply understand and articulate the why of the need for change and then sell it effectively. To do so they must develop an iterative roadmap, have a sustained communications plan across the organization, and ensure they get buy-in across all levels.

  • Strategies for change management. Having a clear strategic roadmap for change management initiatives, using data and visualization tools to support the case for change, and continuous measurement all play key roles in effecting change in organizations. Our speakers also covered approaches such as incorporating lean six sigma principles (i.e. Poka-yoke) and understanding the neurology of organizational culture to support their efforts.

These are just a few of the takeaways from our forum in Chicago. We are looking forward to expanding on these topics and many others in our ongoing series across the US in conference, workshop, and webinar formats.

About the author

Andrew Bowyer