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Innovation

To cater to in-house counsel, ice the cake with innovation

In-house counsel want external partners to create better ways of solving their problems. Here, Susan Taylor Martin shows how to use innovation to generate success.

In-house counsel are being asked to accomplish a swelling list of increasingly varied tasks, often without a commensurate increase in resources. If that’s today, just imagine what tomorrow will look like.

With more to do and less with which to do it, in-house counsel expect creative thinking and problem-solving from their external partners, be they law firms or alternative legal service providers. That’s a tall order that makes some of those external partners anxious. Having made strides in detailed billing, bespoke matter staffing and alternative-fee arrangements, many firms in the legal space now need to find a next step that will increase their value in the eyes of in-house clients.

That next step is innovation.

In order to find more efficient and less costly ways of tackling business obstacles, firms need to come up with new ways of examining the problems at hand, to say nothing of solving them. In an interview with Acritas after the legal and market research firm named Thomson Reuters its leading global alternative legal brand, Susan Taylor Martin, president of Thomson Reuters Legal, talked about how innovation has helped the business find new ways to solve customers’ issues. Her comments offer insight into how a company can think, act and succeed like an ‘alternative legal brand’ even if it hasn’t previously thought of itself as such.

Understanding the in-house client

At the outset, an understanding of what the world is like for in-house counsel is helpful.

For each of the past several years, in-house counsel have reported more and more work being sent their way with only modest increases in resources to fund that additional work’s completion.”Corporate legal departments continue to do more with less,” noted the authors of 2016 Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report.

It’s a trend that doesn’t show much sign of abating.

“They are in this world where it is all about more for less and value for money and wanting greater insights and greater predictability from their (outside) law firms,” Taylor Martin said of in-house counsel.

That means when an in-house counsel does make the decision to spend some of its budget on outside help, the expectations are quite high.

Corporate legal departments continue to do more with less

A premium on innovation

In a May 2017 survey, 200 in-house lawyers said their top attributes in outside firms were responsiveness, understanding of their business and industry, and specialized expertise. Those are fairly fundamental qualities, however, and ones outside organizations should have provided all along. Innovation – using ingenuity and creativity to lead the client to unexpected solutions – is what can make in-house counsel see an outside organization not just as a vendor, but as a partner and problem-solver.

Innovation – using ingenuity and creativity to lead the client to unexpected solutions – is what can make in-house counsel see an outside organization not just as a vendor, but as a partner and problem-solver.

In her interview with Acritas, Taylor Martin spoke of how Thomson Reuters Legal has worked toward that goal. She said her organization has achieved success by being willing to:

Cross-pollinate

It’s easy for any organization to look so inwardly it loses touch with what’s happening outside its niche. That’s a sure way to remain static, and a static company isn’t one that can help its clients prosper and move into the future.

To make sure Thomson Reuters Legal participates in cutting-edge conversations around technology, it forms bonds with many types of businesses – even businesses one may not expect.

“We spend a good deal of time working with customers, with academic institutions, with small startup organizations really understanding the change that’s happening in the legal services world in general,” Taylor Martin said. “Particularly how technology is driving that change and can help organizations, be they corporate legal departments, the judiciary, or law firms.”

The takeaway here: Be open-minded about partnerships and see them as chances to learn and try out someone else’s way of addressing issues – or, better yet, try out a way the two of you have come up with together.

Be open-minded about partnerships and see them as chances to learn.

Take calculated risks

Innovation is a “nothing venture, nothing gained” game. That is to say, a reluctance to try new things will lead nowhere. It’s tempting to want to present a smooth and polished image to clients, but a willingness to stand next to a client as you both look under the hood and get your hands dirty, so to speak, shouldn’t be seen as a weakness.

“One of the things we’ve done recently, which I think is working out very well, is in seven spots across the globe we have what we call our Thomson Reuters Labs,” Taylor Martin said. “And that’s particularly where we can take clients and we can work on problems jointly.”

To put it simply, some degree of risk is inherent in the innovation process, and coming up with new approaches and strategies may require a few false starts. Those are expenditures worth making, however, if they payoff of a new and better method is reached.

Innovation is a “nothing venture, nothing gained” game.

Take issues off the client’s plate

It’s a smart business move to proactively take charge of solving a customer’s problem. In the legal space, that means investing in and developing new technologies. Law firms aren’t traditionally thought of as particularly tech-savvy, so it’s a space where their external providers can provide a value-add.

“I think there are certain technologies where there is no question it really helps that we have a very substantial technology organization that sits not just within our legal world….but across the various industries we serve,” Taylor Martin said. “So, legal services, the tax and accounting world, financial professionals – there’s a lot of commonality across those.”

It’s a smart business move to proactively take charge of solving a customer’s problem.


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