Orrick’s Approach to Law Firm Innovation

In a recent episode of the Bloomberg Law® podcast “Law X.0,” hosts Dori Goldstein and Meg McEvoy spoke to three guests from Orrick’s innovation team. Wendy Butler Curtis, chief innovation officer; Kate Orr, senior innovation counsel; and Daryl Shetterly, director of Orrick Analytics, discussed how the legal industry is evolving and adapting to new technology.

Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on in the legal industry right now that requires innovation?

Kate Orr: There are really two drivers, and we could talk for an hour about this, but I would flag technology and economics. Neither of those is unique to the legal industry. I mean, each of us is inundated every day with advances in technology, and what we’re doing in our day-to-day lives naturally flows into how services are delivered. Things are just changing.

I was at a doctor’s office recently that had an automated check-in, and I checked myself in through a kiosk. Now if you have a sore throat, you don’t need to go to your doctor’s office, you can go to a pharmacy and see an urgent care clinic there. That technology is allowing service delivery to change across all industries. And really, from my perspective, it’s foolish to assume that that isn’t impacting or shouldn’t happen within legal services. Our clients are sophisticated, and they’re asking us questions about how we’re changing, how we’re using technology, and how we’re improving our legal services. We have to have the answers, hence the innovation.

How do you handle these types of changes without fears about things like profitability?

Wendy Butler Curtis: I think it would be somewhat insincere to say that there aren’t instances of fear. If nothing else, people fear change. But we – our chairman, and our firm leadership, and I hope very much our innovation team on the phone – have really worked hard to help everyone understand that all of this is to allow each of us to better enjoy what we do, to contribute at our highest and best value, and to not have to do things that we don’t enjoy or can be automated. We have created incentives to really communicate that we are sincere and committed to all these things that we’re talking about because there is a lot of hype in the market.

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What’s the most important aspect of legal innovation that you’re engaged in?

Curtis: I think at Orrick there are two critical components. We are really focused on the innovation that our clients are facing and actually building in their own industries. So focusing on how do we better understand the transformation in their industries so that we can be better lawyers and service providers.

Daryl Shetterly: For me, I want the legal innovation that we do to not just be a different way that somebody in the firm handled the task or a new technology we’ve procured, but rather a different way that Orrick’s culture operates. Whatever change we decide to implement needs to be integrated into the broader firm fabric, or DNA, or culture so that it’s a way Orrick does that task rather than something that’s driven by an innovation team sitting off in an ivory tower somewhere.

What about law students, young lawyers, or lawyers at firms who aren’t as innovative? What skills should they be trying to acquire or focus on so that they can succeed in this new type of law firm?

Orr: In law school, it is drilled into you to find the right answer, and there is only one right answer. And it’s important as an innovator to foster change, to not be afraid of not having the right answer, and to ask that question: why do we need to do this in the first place?

Shetterly: When I’m interviewing someone, I’m looking for a resiliency, and a person who can function on a team in a collaborative way. Those are really important, because the skills that we will need to succeed 10 years from now are going to keep evolving. But if you’re resilient and you can work on a team, you’re well prepped for success.

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