Working out the most innovative law firms in the US is no easy task, but the Financial Times were up to it with a revised list of their ‘order of service’ for the rankings, which saw Skadden Arps take out the top position.
The list includes most of the AmLaw 100 who submitted their best work.
But what is it that makes a firm “innovative”? How can someone working in a corner office with a time sheet on one side and a tough deadline on the other actually produce something that ranks well enough to receive a legal Emmy?
The FT say it is showing skills or behaviours “beyond the ordinary”. The old way, if you go back to the early days of the FT’s Innovative Lawyer reports, the action taken by lawyers would be to anticipate and prepare in a commercial, committed manner.
But the bar has risen and rather than being in the driving seat in the car, they now want someone designing the car, as well.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, says his lawyers can articulate the detail of their products like engineers. “Every lawyer wants to be a business enabler. The difference in our case is that we are inventing this stuff. So the lawyers have to be doing it, too.”
The focus is on showing not only creativity, but also leadership and a “restless mindset”.
A noteworthy aspect is that many of the lawyers focused upon started life from non-legal backgrounds. For instance, Latham & Watkins IP partner Max Grant was a Navy SEAL, LinkedIn’s general counsel Erika Rottenberg was a school teacher. The difference for these people is their ability to create what the FT calls a “wider interpretation” of what it takes to be a good lawyer.
But things are changing, says the FT.
These norms, however, are changing. While in-house lawyers are leading the shift, those in private practice are not immune. Professor Jeffrey E. Garten from the Yale School of Management said in a recent address to 150 law firm managing partners at an International Bar Association meeting that he believes the US is going through a third industrial revolution. He pointed to levels of industrial collaboration in the US unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
These collaborations underpin many of the examples of innovative lawyering in the 2013 FT report. They represent an opportunity for lawyers but also a challenge as both the law and lawyers have to keep up with the pace of change.
Ninety per cent of ranked entries in the corporate law ranking involved some form of collaboration not only internally among practice groups but externally with clients, opposing law firms and other stakeholders. More than 50 per cent of entries in corporate and finance law involved cross-border work and the standout entries in corporate are all international.