10 January 2020

Law must move beyond the innovation ‘hype cycle’, says Isabel Parker

Published on 10 January 2020

Isabel Parker has seen vast changes in the law. She transitioned from Senior Associate over a decade ago to a series of innovation roles, culminating in her current appointment as Chief Legal Innovation Officer for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Clients increasingly cost-sensitive and discerning

“Over the past 4 years I have seen a significant change in the legal services industry,” said Isabel. “This change has been primarily led by clients who are increasingly discerning, and look to their legal advisers to prove value and use technology to deliver advice more efficiently.

“Clients have a broad choice of providers and will happily disaggregate their legal work to make sure it is delivered in the way they want at a price that gives them certainty. This has forced the industry to respond and shaken traditional law firms out of their previously rather comfortable position.”

For Isabel, this presents a significant opportunity.

“It compels law firms to think more creatively about their proposition,” said Isabel. “As clients across all sectors undergo their own digital transformations, their legal advisers have to follow suit or risk becoming less valuable as trusted business advisers. So it’s a time of great change - and it is an exciting time for those leading innovation in the sector.”

As the legal landscape rapidly changes, the profession must embrace digital transformation.

“This is not just a technology play,” explained Isabel. “True digital transformation requires significant investment - both financial investment and investment in new skills and capabilities.

“Digital transformation is not a project with an end date, but rather involves a wholesale change to our model,” said Isabel. “This requires lawyers and legal business services professionals to work in new ways, to focus on the client experience and to look to create and scale digital products and solutions for clients. Our profession needs to upskill to meet this challenge.”

If law firms embrace digital transformation as part of their long term strategy now, Isabel predicts they will be well placed for success in the future.

Robot lawyers are a long way off

Isabel is a real believer in technology and automation, particularly its potential to expand to drive efficiency and reduce risk.

“However, I am also very conscious of the hype cycle here – law is a slow adopter of new technology and some of the predictions around scaled adoption of automation seem to me over stated,” said Isabel.

“I have seen from my own experience at Freshfields the challenges around effecting genuine digital transformation – so I think robot lawyers are a long way off!”

By 2025, she predicts that the majority of Freshfields will be using robotic process automation to automate standard tasks and services.

“This should make us much slicker and more efficient in terms of client service.”

Technology is likely to facilitate more mobile and flexible working, which could address concerns around wellbeing and mental health.

“Law firms will need a technology stack and tooling that supports this,” said Isabel.

Digital transformation will drive strategy and budgets

Isabel also predicts increased focus on digital transformation.

“Global technology and innovation functions in law firms will play an even more important role in shaping and driving firm strategy,” said Isabel. “A significant proportion of law firms’ budgets will be committed to digital transformation.”

Much of this innovation points towards ‘lower value’ legal work becoming commoditised.

“Data sets for both contentious and non-contentious work will continue to increase and law firms will need to scale their support centres or partner more frequently with other providers to provide a ‘full service’ to clients,” said Isabel.

“Competition for the ‘high end’ work will also increase, and law firms will need to differentiate themselves by providing the very best customer experience – investing more in relationships with our key clients and becoming even closer business advisers.

“I also suspect that we will see law firms developing more digital products in collaboration with clients – and commercialising these in the market.”

Education and collaboration are essential

Only by learning and sharing experiences together can the legal profession effectively embrace innovation.

“Collaboration is essential to support innovation,” said Isabel. While being mindful of any competition law issues, Isabel urges law firms and lawyers serious about innovation to share their insights and help each other progress.

“I have found that there is a lot of enthusiasm for collaboration amongst legal innovation professionals. Communities like the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) are a great source of knowledge and support. Education at the law school level also has an important role to play here. We need to equip our future lawyers with the skills and capabilities they need for this new professional world.”

Isabel thinks there has never been a more exciting time to be joining the profession.

“You can be part of the change and help to shape the legal services proposition for the future,” said Isabel. “Don’t be intimidated - seize the opportunity!”

While Isabel is relatively new to the CLI, she can already see its value as a resource and community for those interested in legal innovation.

“Having a space to exchange ideas, share and collaborate is so important,” said Isabel. “I am a great believer in networking for good - and CLI plays an important role in enabling this. I look forward to a long and fruitful connection!”