Nigel Emmerson, Partner and Head of Innovation, discusses what innovation means in the legal sector and what it means to Bond Dickinson.

Why does the legal sector need to be innovative?

The legal sector needs to embrace innovation in order to remain competitive, relevant and progressive. Being able to demonstrate our commitment to innovation, and the benefits this will bring, has clearly become much more important to our clients. In 2015, only 28 per cent of in-house legal clients surveyed for the Best Legal Adviser Report said innovation in their law firms was important whereas in 2016 this rose hugely to 62 per cent.

How does Bond Dickinson view innovation?

Bond Dickinson views innovation as approaching a 'pain point' from a new perspective or using existing resources to deliver something new. Innovation is about constant improvement. How can we do better for our clients? How can we run our team better? How can we deliver legal advice better? We are exploring new technologies by looking at the whole smarter working space, for example onshoring and deconstruction. Innovation is extremely important to us at Bond Dickinson. In a changing and challenging legal market it is important we constantly strive to creatively improve the way we deliver our legal services and ensure they are truly aligned with our clients' needs. As well as excellent advice, clients want transparency, efficiency and cost effectiveness. They want us to work in partnership with them (and others) to help solve their commercial and sometimes practical or administrative issues. We need to be able to creatively respond to these demands to ensure we remain competitive, relevant and progressive, and this needs to be done in a coordinated way so that we make best use of everyone's time and resources.

What steps has the firm taken to ensure it is thinking innovatively?

Bond Dickinson has established an innovation group to help identify potential innovation opportunities and 'pain points', and to coordinate initiatives and projects across the firm. Most recently, the group has been coordinating various events and activities around a firm wide international innovation week, which we are jointly hosting with our US alliance partner, Womble Carlyle (March 20-24). The aim of the week is to encourage everyone in the business to explore innovation and look at how the legal market is changing. The firm was ranked in the Top 5 for both Overall Innovation and Alternative Low Cost Centres in the Best Legal Advisers Report which is something we are delighted about – but we know we still have a long way to go.

Have you seen business impact from innovative projects?

The team at Bond Dickinson has already seen some very positive results from projects where we have collaborated with clients such as AIG, where document automation has brought big benefits to the in-house legal team. We have developed a cross referencing tool with our partner Brochet, which saves hours of time when drafting documents. We are also learning from collaboration on innovation with Womble Carlyle, which is hugely beneficial to both firms. Other innovation projects we are working on include document reading automation, project management service, knowledge management, data analytics and e-disclosure in litigation cases.

What's next?

At Bond Dickinson, we continue to challenge ourselves to think differently about how we deliver our service to clients through innovation. The legal world is transforming at a very aggressive pace, and we want to be at the forefront of this new world. The advent of email speeded up what we do, but automation and systemisation are fundamentally changing what we do. We believe that there will always be a place for experienced and talented lawyers to deliver sound commercial advice to their clients, but this advice will now be backed up with cutting edge technology.

First published in the North East Times.