So many motivations, including the sharp rise in the availability and proven effectiveness of legal technology in recent years, confirms what we already know – the future of law WILL be technology-based - it simply has to, in order to keep up with the rest of the world. Consequently, in more and more firms, you’ll now find in-house digital strategists and innovation hubs dedicated to rolling out digital transformation. But still, in some firms the adoption and general enthusiasm for technology from lawyers is slow and reluctant. Sounds familiar? If so, until you tackle this mindset block and get your leaders and lawyers on board, you’ll never truly reap the full benefits of digital transformation.
If you’re keen to inject some innovation into your firm’s work practices, creating an innovation charter could be a good place to start. We asked Eileen Burns, chief digital officer at Arthur Cox LLP, to share how the firm is successfully engaging the whole firm in its digital transformation journey, by committing to an innovation charter.
Giving digital transformation clarity and purpose
“What do we need to focus on to make us more successful?” Eileen recalls this as possibly the single most important question she asked four years ago when she joined Arthur Cox LLP to head up a practice group dedicated to LegalTech and innovation. . “Digital transformation might be considered really complex - , but for me, I think it's really, really simple – how do you use technology to provide an edge or competitive advantage for businesses?”
She raises an important point. It’s one thing to recognise innovation is a vital part of the long-term success of your firm, but it’s another thing entirely to understand precisely how it contributes to your strategy. What technology will maximise ROI? How can it be used to minimise risk and deliver your efficiency goals? By creating an innovation charter, Eileen answered these questions and clarified where delivering digital transformation sits within the framework of the firm’s over-arching corporate strategy.
“I felt it was really important we had a charter,” she explains. “It was very important we had this clarity of purpose, clarity on the areas we would focus on and making sure this was aligned with the priorities of the firm. Because if they weren't aligned, we wouldn't be successful.”
Having a comprehensive innovation plan is all well and good but writing up yet another corporate missive is a task easily shelved for being overly officious. For this reason, Eileen is keen to point out that at Arthur Cox LLP they’ve minimised any bureaucratic burden associated with creating a charter.
“Now, that [a charter] sounds like a very grandiose thing, but actually, our charter is very simple,” she’s keen to point out. “It's not a complex document. It's four or five slides at most, and it's something that lets you easily and quickly grasp what success looks like. I would describe it like a guiding framework for our team. It outlines the areas that we focus on versus traditional IT and it’s a set of principles for how we operate.”
Digital transformation is a team sport
But the impact of the charter goes way beyond articulating the digital transformation team’s role and accountability. And it’s far from a wish list of digital platforms. In fact, it’s as much about engaging Arthur Cox’s people in innovation as it is about the technology itself. The charter recognises that successful digital transformation demands the involvement of IT, lawyers and support staff from across the entire firm, as well as technology vendors, such as Clarilis.
“To be successful, digital transformation has to be a team sport,” says Eileen. “I put a lot of effort in the beginning into shifting language away from labelling this as a technology project ¬– it's not, it’s an Arthur Cox LLP business project. I put a large focus on it needing to be a collaborative effort for all parts of the business - and that's reflected in the charter. It's not something for the lawyers to do, or for IT to do, or risk and compliance to do on their own. It’s a collaborative effort, in a multidisciplinary way.”
Given that lack of support from top leadership is one of the most common reasons for innovation to fail, Eileen was keen to use the charter to secure senior sponsorship for digital transformation from the start. This meant making sure the firm’s management committee was fully engaged and contributed to the charter. This committee is chaired by the managing partner and includes the heads of every department. In Eileen’s words – “It’s where all of the decisions are made in relation to running the firm.”
Involving this group was crucial in giving digital transformation at Arthur Cox LLP the drive, direction and momentum that has made it an industry role model for innovation. “You have to have proper senior level buy-in – you won't be successful without it,” she adds. “I had a lot of sessions and brainstorming with our management committee to explore what digital transformation means and what were the key cornerstones of it that would be required to make it successful.”
These conversations weren’t necessarily about investing in specific technology or digital platforms, instead Eileen’s focus was on exploring how they could use technology to provide an edge or competitive advantage for the business. And having these discussions helped to change the culture and mindset around technology at the firm.
“All of the discussions we had, were very important in terms of education – also, in terms of building consensus,” Eileen emphasises. “Consensus is necessary. Clear agreement with senior levels is critical because it's your springboard for investment. That commitment to lead from the top is important. I'd say never start anything a project unless you've got meaningful sponsorship.
Choose a vendor that understands your strategic vision too
Having the charter helps to bring commercial focus to digital transformation at Arthur Cox LLP.
By reinforcing it diligently, particularly in how they implement technology, the firm is driving forward its innovation agenda in a highly strategic way that directly meets the challenges of their legal practice.
“Digital transformation might be considered really complex - , but for me, I think it's really, really simple – how do you use technology to provide an edge or competitive advantage for businesses?”
Chief Digital Officer, Arthur Cox
“It was very important we had this clarity of purpose, clarity on the areas we would focus on and making sure this was aligned with the priorities of the firm. Because if they weren't aligned, we wouldn't be successful.”
Chief Digital Officer, Arthur Cox