Best in Class roundtable: culture takes time


  • Marc-Henri Chamay, CEO of aosphere, Allen & Overy
  • Andrew Giverin, partner, PwC
  • Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer
  • James Jack, head of professional indemnity, Travelers
  • Cathy Mattis, head of legal project management UK/US & EMEA, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Mike McGlinchey, head of client technology, Pinsent Masons
  • Julian Millar, head of specialty claims, Travelers
  • Guy Pendell, head of commercial, regulatory and disputes, and international
    arbitration, CMS
  • Claire Rowe, chief executive, Shoosmiths
  • Paul Smith, senior risk management consultant, Travelers
  • Nick West, chief strategy officer, Mishcon de Reya

How do you judge a firm’s will to innovate? Answer: see how open their head of risk is to the idea. So, in conjunction with The Lawyer Awards (in association with Travelers) it is time to ask what innovation means for the legal industry in 2017, and how the culture of innovation  can  be incorporated into the law firm model.

This year’s Law Firm of the Year nominees gathered in London recently to explain what their firms were doing to promote innovation, and talk about how new methods can promote fresh ideas. Are today’s associates and senior associates best-positioned thanks to their relatively low-risk positions? Is the partnership system stifling innovation with a top-down approach? Will the big firms face serious consequences if they do not change their ways? These were just a few of the questions discussed.

For Herbert Smith Freehills’ head of legal project management Cathy Mattis, innovation does not emerge from a single source; it must be fostered throughout the firm.

“You need to look at innovation from top to bottom,” Mattis explained. “The partnership model is phenomenally powerful and we have an almost corporate structure within that. Sometimes the partnership model can inhibit momentum, so it’s about working with people at the bottom and demonstrating change.”

This approach, argued CMS head of commercial, regulatory and disputes and international arbitration Guy Pendell, serves a “very practical” purpose.

“Innovation isn’t hierarchical,” he said. “Many of today’s partners were probably the innovators of their day. A lot of change  in law firms is evolutionary, making small, incremental adjustments. And where better to encourage this than at the coalface?”

Marc-Henri Chamay, CEO of Allen & Overy’s (A&O) online risk management arm aosphere, remarked that he was not surprised to see ideas coming from associates and senior associates.

So is that because the present generation of practitioners are more tech-savvy than their predecessors?

“They’ve just got less to lose – if it all goes wrong they can always go and work somewhere else,” he responded.

This drew a laugh, but Chamay added pertinently: “That’s the risk element, and the challenge to partnerships is to incentivise and support their best talent to take  risks.”

Travelers head of professional indemnity James Jack said that his company has “always spoken about innovation”, but that this can be met with apprehensive glances in conservative-minded boardrooms.

“The dynamic around the boardroom table’s really interesting when the conversation gets on to innovation,” Jack added. “It differs from firm to firm, and with the different approaches taken by the head of risk, the CEO and the managing partner. You can see them looking at each other, and that plays out in the boardroom and throughout the organisation.”

Develop a culture

Mishcon de Raya chief strategy officer Nick West stressed that it is not enough simply to listen to the ideas of young people – an organisation should foster an “atmosphere of innovation”.

“Line up incentives with everything you need to make that microcosm work and get your story straight – that’s how you get innovation” he said. “With regard to associates, I agree they are well-positioned if the organisation supports them. I have associates working on secondment for me and they have 20 per cent of their chargeable time reduced. It’s  about getting to the coalface – they don’t have to worry about targets.”

PwC partner and co-head of new law practice Andrew Giverin said that although innovation is looked upon with scepticism by some, “the sign of a successful organisation is one that tries to disrupt itself”.

He added: “There are a lot of people doing extremely innovative things in PwC simply because, in my view, they’ve been given a degree of freedom to fail. There’s an innovation structure in place. It’s about finding the seed and pollinating it across the organisation. The challenge is to federalise it across the business.”

Pendell echoed this while reaffirming his stance on incremental change by citing James Dyson’s approach as an example of how incremental change can yield great  results over time.

“Dyson made more than 5,500 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner,” Pendell said. “If you transfer that type of thinking to the legal industry it’s challenging when you’ve got people working to billable hours and so on.  You need an element of passion and support from law firms. I think you can get to Dyson-esque levels of innovation much sooner because you’re making an adjustment to an existing system of working.”

Make time for clients

One of the issues raised at the roundtable was finding the time to think about innovation in a field that is moving so quickly.

According to research by The Lawyer, just 5 per cent of in-house teams are using technology and general counsel are somewhat cynical, simply not having the time to properly consider new ways of working.

Shoosmiths chief executive Claire Rowe said it is important to work with in-house teams so innovations have time to grow.

“You can go in with a solution and GCs think it’s really nice, but they haven’t got the time to try it and it’s like – how do we help you make the time? Then comes the pilot and the trial. You have to be quite pushy.”

As Mattis points out, in some cases innovation can be as simple as getting clients closer to their panels, expressing their problems, and lawyers understanding how big an impact their attitude can have.

“Working together, they’re already cross-pollinating ideas and the panel are playing to their strengths,” she said. “A good example is the National Grid case study (The Lawyer, May 2017) in which one leads on technology, one leads on knowledge, and they all resolve problems together. For me, the big thing isn’t the product – the big thing is the impact you can have through your attitude.”

Find out more about The Lawyer Awards 2017 and book your tickets now at or contact Emma Bower on 0207 970 4171/

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