Using innovation and diversity to keep up with an evolving legal practice

Reena Sengupta, founder and managing director of RSG Consulting, believes in harnessing the power of digital transformation and diversity in today’s legal world.

As a leading analyst and creator of the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Report, Reena shared her insights on how modern law firms can keep up with an evolving practice in the latest event hosted by IE’s LawAhead Hub.

Understanding the digital economy

A recent report by RSG reveals significant changes in the legal profession. But many law firms are hesitant to adapt. In fact, only 19% of partners in major law firms feel confident about working with the digital economy and understand its implications for the practice of law.

The pandemic, Reena says, has only accelerated digital transformation. As millions of employees became digital professionals overnight, clients began expecting more from lawyers, and the legal practice is struggling to keep up with that demand. “Law firms have to meet that,” she says. “They have to reflect their clients.”

RSG’s research identified five changes that law firms and partners need to make: be usable, be digital, be fast, be future-ready, and be multifaceted.

Being usable means effectively using design thinking for more than just streamlining processes or making documents visually appealing, but applying it to legal content as well. Being digital, RSG’s report highlights, is about more than just using the newest technology. It involves firms coming up with a clear data strategy that sees the value of using client and third-party data to enhance their counsel—which only 13% currently do.

Using that data to provide savings on time and cost for clients can help lawyers do business better and faster. But it’s not just law firms that need to innovate and digitally transform, RSG advises—even the practice of law is evolving. Firms need to be prepared for how client changes impact the practice and think big when it comes to preparing for the future.

Part of that future is being multifaceted—pooling expertise and knowledge to create cognitively diverse teams.

Using innovation and diversity to keep up with an evolving legal practice | IE LawAhead

Broadening your view of diversity

Diversity plays a critical role in the evolving legal profession, Reena says. Law firms need to keep up with the rules and trends surrounding diversity and inclusion or risk being left behind.

Underpinning these trends and the ways that firms need to evolve are what RSG calls the “three Ds”: data, design and diversity. This means collecting and using data, leading with a design-thinking mindset, and prioritizing diverse viewpoints to solve complex client issues.

“The diversity element is about harnessing different ways of thinking, different skill sets, and different professionals all under the same roof,” Reena says. “Law firms are not about lawyers, and they haven’t been for a while. Now what we see across the board is that different professionals are becoming fee earners within law firms. That’s really critical, and they need to be included.”

RSG’s report says that firms should lean into these inclusive teams of knowledge professionals. This even extends beyond the firm, where peer law firms are no longer seen as competition but rather as collaborators on client-led platforms. Having a variety of different perspectives is key.

Demographic diversity is still a big challenge for the industry as a whole, Reena adds. But firms should also think about how to bring in cognitive diversity.

Using innovation and diversity to keep up with an evolving legal practice | IE LawAhead

Training digital-first graduates

Law schools play a fundamental role in preparing graduates for the future of the legal world. First and foremost, Reena says, law schools need to think digitally.

They should also realize that law is a broad, functional practice, which calls for more well-rounded professionals. In addition to the law itself, young lawyers need to understand data, design thinking and how to work in an agile way.

“Traditionally, law schools are just teaching the content of the law,” Reena says. “But now they have to give that a lot more context—it’s all about the context.”