Ahead of her panel session at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero, Slaughter and May head of innovation Jane Stewart talks to The Lawyer about what changes the new emerging roles are bringing in law firms and how you have to be strategic about your innovation if you want to succeed.
Will the future bring new roles in law firms that we haven’t seen before?
Jane Stewart
Jane Stewart

For sure. A couple of years ago The Law Society predicted that it would see an increased diversity of roles and titles among its membership by 2020 and it’s very apparent that this is happening already – you just need to look at the attendance list of any industry conference or take a quick look at LinkedIn to see the extraordinary number and diversity of new job types. Universities and law schools are investigating and designing new courses to address the broadening skill sets coming to (and needed by) the industry and firms are recruiting subject matter experts from other sectors to support their practices. It’s interesting to see how new roles and skill sets are absorbed into existing law firm governance structures and very positive to see multiple experts from different areas of the firm (legal and non legal) coming together to collaborate on projects.

There are some new roles being created around strategy and innovation, what changes will these bring to law firms?
I think they’re bringing welcome impetus to initiate change, and the ability to actually deliver it, within organisations that haven’t always facilitated innovation or allowed it to flourish. For us, our culture and approach means that everyone at the firm – regardless of their particular role – is continually involved in thinking about how we can improve our service to meet evolving client needs. That said, having people in the firm who are specifically responsible for particular strategic projects, such as legal tech development or flexible legal resourcing, means that we can make sure things get done and changes happen quickly and efficiently to support our lawyers and clients. This is critical as the pace of change in our industry increases. There are lots of exciting opportunities ahead.
How can law firms best encourage innovation?
Firms need to ensure that they are positioned and able to adapt and respond to market change and evolving client need in the way that other industries have done successfully. This includes making changes to legal service delivery, but it is also about solid client relationships and firm culture and strategy – none of which are new or revolutionary concepts, despite the hype around innovation at the moment.
So firstly, I think it’s key that a firm’s culture and leadership are forward looking and open to new ways of doing things. There’s no room for complacency for firms who want to retain or improve their market position in a time of intense market change. Secondly, and this doesn’t sound very exciting, but structures and process for delivering change and innovation are essential (including processes for communicating about the changes being made). If you want it to happen, make it someone’s job. Thirdly, to succeed and bring everyone along with you, I also think it’s important to implement change in a way that’s sympathetic and complementary to the positive aspects of a firm’s practice. To put it another way, to avoid change for change’s sake.
For us, this means that although we have an ambitious legal tech strategy and we work hard to ensure we’re on top of all new developments, we’re not about jumping on any bandwagons. Instead we prioritise areas where we know that our clients (and our lawyers) want to see change and improvement, and we implement new solutions in areas of our practice where they’re likely to be embraced and have the highest chance of success. This also means that where there are priority areas for us, we’re open to making major changes – by way of example all our trainees are now trained to use Luminance as a matter of course when they learn about diligence in their corporate seats. It’s exciting how quickly AI has become a core tool in this area.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
I’m lucky to have worked with some super intelligent and inspiring people over the years, including some real forward thinkers, ahead of their time and long before the word ‘innovation’ was linked to the legal sector. I love variety, and learning from different people with diverse skill sets and backgrounds, so I’m struggling to think of one particular influence, though if I’m pressed to choose a current inspiration, I’ll say my 6 year old daughter, Ruby. She’s an amazingly creative thinker and a killer negotiator. Lawyers everywhere could learn from her.
Jane Stewart is part of the 120+ managing partners, C-level executives and business services leaders gathering on the 25 September 2018 at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero to spend a day focusing on defining your law firm strategy in a tech-driven future. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Nathan Graham on +44(0) 20 7970 4672.