Global law firm Reed Smith recently appointed Adam Curphey as Innovation Engagement Manager. Curphey’s focus is working “with the firm’s lawyers, Practice Innovation and IT development teams to implement ideas to drive internal efficiencies, as well as identify collaboration opportunities with Reed Smith’s clients to deliver new products and services which will enhance legal service delivery.” Curphey will also “run the firm’s Innovation Hub in London, which opened in October 2016.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, Reed Smith maintains offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore.
In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Curphey details Reed Smith’s global innovation initiatives, including the firm’s plans for the Asia-Pacific region. Curphey also details the experience that led him to the role.
How has your previous roles at White & Case, as an associate, and at BPP University Law School, as Head of Development (Innovation Technology), shaped your experience?
If the point of innovation is to continuously find new ways to solve problems and new problems to solve, then understanding the mind-set of those whose problems you are trying to solve is vitally important for any innovation team.
During my time as an associate and my various roles at BPP I have had the benefit of foundations in law, education, technology, project management, IT architecture, and systems design, whether it be working as a part of those teams or working with them to solve problems. For me, that means I can draw upon a range of experiences to better understand problems.
It also means that I can empathise with the pressures that lawyers are under, and acknowledge that finding time and space to innovate is difficult. Client needs are best met by a collaborative team of specialists, and being able to bridge the gaps between sectors is a great boon.
In addition, anyone working in innovation understands that part of your role is an educator: clients and lawyers do not always have the time to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field, and being able to communicate effectively is something I learned from delivering legal training.
What are the current initiatives that Reed Smith already has in place to enhance its delivery of legal services?
There are a number of exciting initiatives globally that Reed Smith has in place. I mentioned that it is difficult for lawyers to find time and space to innovate – Reed Smith provides both of those things. In terms of time, the innovation hours programme gives those who want to work on new solutions internally or with clients the billable hours to do so.
This means real time spent on innovation projects and opportunities that count toward their billable hours. In terms of space, there are the innovation hubs. These are areas we have marked out within whose walls the normal rules of the day job do not apply, where anyone can have the next brilliant innovation. Another thing I love about Reed Smith is that we refuse to just buy a product without truly understanding the use case.
We have fantastic teams around the globe in our Practice Innovation, Gravity Stack, and Global Solutions teams who are dedicated to working with lawyers and clients to effectively use technology to serve their needs, whether that need is a bespoke platform, automation of existing processes to improve the lives of lawyers and help us offer a better level of service, or even the development of entirely new technologies.
The Reed Smith mantra is ‘progress through partnership’, and it is something the firm lives in partnering with specialists in technology, project management, and data. Of course, none of these initiatives are worth anything if we produce things that clients don’t want, and one of the really key programmes within the firm is the client listening and insight team.
This involves meeting with clients and truly taking the time to understand their needs. Empathy is at the heart of innovation, after all.
Why is it imperative for law firms to turn to innovation in the current legal landscape?
There are a huge number of reasons why law firms should be innovating now, and they have been spoken about at length by a great many people.
Economic uncertainty, increasing pressures on legal functions, technological advances taking advantage of data, changes to regulation in various jurisdictions, an increased focus on mental health and wellbeing, changes to education and training, evolving expectations of new starters, all of those things play a part.
But there is a much simpler reason: our clients need us to innovate. For all the pressures we are under, our clients are feeling exactly the same pressure. It is our job to make our clients’ lives easier, and we will do that however we can. Innovation is a handy term of art, but it is just continuing to listen and to evolve as our clients need to and to even give our clients what they need before they even know they want it.
Do you have any future plans in mind for Reed Smith’s innovation hubs in London, New York and Chicago?
For me, great innovations are collaborative. Individuals can have fantastic ideas, but it is only when we start opening that idea up to scrutiny with others – especially the intended users – that it will evolve into becoming something we can put into action.
The more diverse those collaborative teams are the better, as we are more likely to find truly transformational ways of doing things. The hubs give us a great opportunity to work with our clients and also with our offices across the globe to ensure such diverse collaboration.
While it is important that individual offices respond to the specific needs of those clients in their jurisdictions, many of our clients are global and so are we. I want to share ideas and learnings across every single one of the hubs, with the intention that we can help all of our lawyers be constantly thinking how to do things better. If that is a mind-set that everyone can take into their clients and their day-to-day work, that for me is success.
Given my background in education, too, I know that to engage people properly you need smaller interactive workshops that let people communicate effectively. The hubs give us a great space to do that without feeling like we’re in a traditional meeting room.
Does your innovation agenda for Reed Smith’s Asia offices in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kazakhstan differ from other regional offices?
It is important that individual offices respond to the specific needs of their clients. When I started this role I was careful to arrive with no preconceptions. I would not have a specific technology or solution in mind because top-down innovation just doesn’t lead to the best solutions.
Instead I have been listening and learning, and facilitating the best processes for people to share their ideas. That is a strategy that applies equally to the Asian offices. I want to listen, to understand, and to facilitate ideas so that we can work together to solve problems, while also engaging the offices with our global programme of innovation.
There is a reason my role is ‘innovation engagement manager’. It is an evolution from the previous role of ‘innovation hub manager’ because innovation is so much wider. We cannot and should not restrict innovation to those offices with hubs, it is something that applies to us all. It is also worth pointing out that a number of our key ongoing innovation hours projects have come from Asian offices.
What are your thoughts on innovation at law firms in Asia?
I think what is really interesting is how much of a global movement innovation has become. Without actively intending to, many different jurisdictions have identified that the provision of legal services is changing.
Although Asia is made up of a number of diverse countries and communities, with nuances in the developments in each, on the whole the themes identified are very similar to those in Europe and America, with an acknowledgement that there needs to be changes to education, the fostering of new skillsets, the development of innovative programmes and communities, more collaboration with clients, and new technologies to facilitate efficiency and transformation.
There are varying levels of maturity in the innovation communities across Asia, but progress is moving quickly with regulatory support being given in key areas and leading innovation hubs such as FLIP being established. If anything, I think this strengthens my point around collaboration – we need to work together in diverse teams to solve our clients’ problems.