Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Exposing the Innovation Gap in the Law

The overwhelming majority of in-house lawyers say innovation is a top priority at their companies, and many are frustrated that their outside firms don’t feel the same way.

One of the biggest obstacles to innovation: a misconception about what Artificial Intelligence is and what it can do for a law firm.

Those are some of the findings from a recent Thompson Hine survey on innovation in the legal sector.

“We see many players in the legal market talking about the importance of innovation,” says Thompson Hine managing partner Deborah Z. Read. “But the market needs more than talk. In our first innovation survey two years ago and again in our most recent survey, we’ve seen a significant gap between the buyers’ desire for innovation and what law firms provide.”

According to the survey, 91 percent of in-house law departments have made changes to their operational procedures over the past year, such as improving project management, streamlining outside counsel panels, restructuring workflow, or implementing online self-service tools.

Almost the same percentage (90 percent) replied “no” or “don’t know” when asked if their outside firms were similarly inclined.

“I’ve been very unimpressed by the level of technological and project management skills demonstrated by our outside counsel,” said one general counsel. “I would definitely consider looking for another firm that could demonstrate competency in those areas.”

Below are some key takeaways from the report, which you can read or download here.

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The Innovation Gap Persists

“The world has never been in greater need of innovation than it is today,” says Thompson Hine managing partner Deborah Z. Read. “Whether it’s finding vaccines for a global pandemic, reinventing businesses to survive an economic downturn, or protecting vulnerable populations and environments, society is seeking fresh thinking and bold action.”

Here are three takeaways from the Thompson Hine report, titled “The Innovation Gap Persists:”

  1. The concept of Artificial Intelligence is widely misunderstood. “Law firms and legal departments have used some form of AI for decades to speed up legal research (think LexisNexis and Westlaw). More recently, lawyers have begun using AI to automate routine, high-volume tasks such as e-discovery, diligence, document drafting, and contract reviews. While AI has enormous potential to drive efficiency and free lawyers to focus on higher-level thinking, some in the profession fear a fleet of robot lawyers coming to steal jobs and degrade legal services.”
  2.  AI is perfect for repetitive, routine tasks. AI office applications can increase efficiency, save money and speed up your work. Litigation tools can analyze risk, research cases and predict outcomes.
  3.  In-house lawyers are generally clueless about whether their outside firms are innovators. “More than 90 percent of respondents said ‘no’ or ‘do not know’ when asked if their law firms used AI for specified purposes (the exception being e-discovery, which 20 percent knew their law firms used). Most were unaware whether a law firm’s use of AI had saved them money. As with data analytics, this lack of knowledge leads to a lack of perceived value. More than half the respondents reported no interest in having their lawyers use AI for a list of specified purposes. Respondents were uncertain about the benefits of having law firms employ AI, and most were worried about potential negative consequences, particularly in the area of data security.”

Source: Thompson Hine


Jay Reeves is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Now he writes and speaks at CLEs, keynotes and in-firm presentations on lawyer professionalism and well-being. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which offers confidential, one-on-one consultations to sharpen your firm’s mission and design an excellent Law Life. Contact or 919-619-2441.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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