The Geography of Legal Innovation – Firms, People, Tech

14 Jun

Image by nugroho dwi hartawan from PixabayBy Gordon Vala-WebbBuilding Smarter Organizations

I was recently talking with Professor Dan Linna at Northwestern about his very provocative Legal Services Innovation Index. It is a “pilot project to create an index of legal-service delivery innovation” using “indicators of innovation on [260] law firm websites” (pulled using Google Advanced Search against those firms’ websites organised into categories and jurisdictions). It consists of both a catalogue of innovative offerings and an “Index” of innovation.

It made me wonder if this Index for firms matched two other possible indicators of innovation in the legal services / law practices industries across eight key jurisdictions (United States, United Kingdom, China, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, and Canada):

Warnings

First, some apples-to-oranges caveats:

Apples and oranges on opposite ends of weigh scale Image by Tumisu from Pixabay
  • The time series don’t line up (the Innovation Index was done last year; Chin’s numbers are from February 2018; and my LinkedIn search was done just now)
  • The Innovation Index includes things like AFAs as an “innovation” (which may not map well to whether firms have an “Innovation” person or not)
  • LinkedIn’s “Law Practice” and “Legal Services” industries include people who are not with law firms; and, obviously, some people are almost certainly doing some innovation (maybe even a lot) without having it in their LinkedIn job title
  • Firms might have innovation people located in other jurisdictions (e.g. India) which wouldn’t be counted; and LinkedIn is not as widely used in certain jurisdictions (it is available, for example, in China – 50 million users – but is not as ubiquitous as in the US – 160 million).

However, I think the results are interesting – and possibly indicative of some intriguing patterns.

Firms are All Talk and No Action?

There is likely no surprise here for anyone seriously paying attention but there seems to be a mismatch between the Innovation Index – firms TALKING about innovative things on their website – and organisations having people to DO innovation. The correlation between the two (for the selected jurisdictions) is only 0.38.

A kinder explanation might be that, since the Innovation Index includes alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), the correlation would improve if we included job titles with “Pricing” or “AFA” or “Feedback” in them (click here for that LinkedIn list). I suspect the answer is a combination of both of these (look for my upcoming post on that).

High Correlation Between Titles and Tech Firms

Dart in center of target Image by Deedster from Pixabay

There is an extraordinary level of correlation – 0.93 (or near perfect!) – between the number of people with “innovation” in their titles in a jurisdiction and the number of legal tech firms in that country.

Of course correlation is never causation; I suspect that the causal arrow for both is coming from two sources:

  1. The growing willingness of clients to use their increasing legal-services purchasing power (pushing firms to make changes)
  2. The larger size and and greater operational sophistication of legal departments (whereby they become customers for the direct purchase of technology).

CLOC’s extraordinary growth – and the plethora of firms and tech companies attending their latest conference – is a telling example of both these phenomena.

Is China a Legal Innovation Leader?

The Innovation Index gives Chinese firms a score of 666.3 – which is almost as high as the US firms (at 671.7). But, looking at the other data sets, there are only two people in China with “innovation” in their titles and only one legal tech firm.

One explanation of that high Index score came to me from Norm Letalik, an immensely experienced law firm leader, who reminded me of how competitive the Chinese legal market is. This pressure comes not just from lawyers but other forms of legal services providers:

“the exclusivity enjoyed by legal professionals [in China], and the precise scope of activities to which it applies, are becoming unclear; and the existing regulations may face the risk of being circumvented”

Source: Jing Li, “The Legal Profession of China in a Globalized World,” International Journal of the Legal Profession

As to the very few people who have “innovation” titles, LinkedIn has struggled to get traction there (as has every Western company). Perhaps it is also that firms in China are “post-innovative” – with everyone doing it but no one having the title? Or perhaps the function is called something else?

And, seemingly, Stanford Law’s CodeX Techindex is significantly underestimating tech firms outside of North America such as those in China (one?!) and in the UK (see following section).

The United – Legal Tech – Kingdom!?

UK firms get an Innovation Index more than three times the US’ (and China’s) with a score of 2,068! And they have the highest ratio of “innovation” titles to any jurisdiction’s population (i.e. 2.35 to US’ 1.1). That would make the country the United – Legal Tech – Kingdom!

The UK legal market was early into privatization deals, and with London’s financial markets, has seen a lot of multi-jurisdictional work with high fee structures. That gave – at least the big firms there – the size and margins to help with the early adoption of innovative approaches. Potentially that early innovation lift was enhanced by the UK legal services market becoming open to alternative business structures (which provided at least a psychologically impetus for innovation if not also actual market pressure).

It also seems anomalous that the UK is reported to have less than one-tenth the number of legal tech firms as compared to the US (35 to 460 respectively); again, it seems (like China) that their legal tech firms are being under counted in the Techindex.

US Legal Tech is HUGE

Whatever the real count of legal tech firms, there is no doubt that the number of legal tech firms in the US is huge – 460. Canada is next largest at 52 (with UK in third place trailing – as noted above – at 35 tech firms). Whether it is the sheer size of the US tech capital markets, their effectiveness, or something in the water – whatever it is, it is working to generate lots and lots of legal tech.

Canada and Australia – Punching Above Their Weight?

Kangaroo Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Canada and Australia are pretty small jurisdictions relative to the US; but in both cases they seem to be punching above their weight:

  • Both have more people with innovation titles than you would expect relative to the US population (Australia has three times the number; and Canada almost twice the number)
  • Canada more than matches the US in the number of expected (i.e. adjusted for relative population size) legal tech firms; Australia trails with just half the number expected – perhaps more under-counting of tech firms outside of North America?

Of course Australia has pioneered alternative business structures for legal service delivery (click here for more) so perhaps their innovation (relative) people lead is not surprising. What might explain Canada’s legal tech strength? Could the world’s first legal tech incubator – Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone – be part of the explanation?

Change Over Time?

The most interesting question might one that cannot be answered right now: Is the rate of innovation accelerating? (And, if so, are the rates different for different countries?) We simply don’t have the time-series data that we would need to do that analysis.

Final Questions

  • What is happening in China in legal tech? Are there implications here for the rest of the world?
  • Should Americans pay more attention to legal tech developments in the UK (and also Australia and Canada)?
  • Could running the LinkedIn job title searches every six months provide a simple but effective innovation “velocity” metric?
  • What would it take to encourage Prof. Linna to revisit his Innovation Index? And let us all help CodeX LegalTech to build a more complete list (anyone can submit a legal technology company for inclusion).

Note: To see the raw calculations in Excel just send me your email address.

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One Response to “The Geography of Legal Innovation – Firms, People, Tech”

  1. netzer9 June 17, 2019 at 1:01 pm #

    Reblogged this on Legal Tech Talent Network.

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