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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Innovation Insights

Create. Disrupt. Deliver.

What does Clifford Chance's innovation lab do?

When asked to speak at this year's TechLaw.Fest, we decided to acknowledge a question we get on a daily basis:

What exactly do we do at Clifford Chance's innovation lab?

The concept of an innovation lab is certainly not a new one, but innovation labs within law firms fall into relatively unchartered territory.

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So what do we actually do?

The promise of technology’s capacity to redefine our clients' experiences and expectations has long been a catalyst for innovation at Clifford Chance. Create+65 is the firm's first innovation lab which sits in Singapore. The name Create comes from the wider initiative that the lab is part of – Clifford Chance Create – and +65 is derived from Singapore's area code. The Create team, including the lab, is focused on research and development into future ways of working for the legal industry.  As a result, on an average day in the lab we do a lot of listening, a lot of thinking, and a lot of talking.  This ends up looking like:

  • Listen, learn and co-create: We spend much of our time listening to our clients and trying to understand the practical challenges they face.  We then actively focus on matching those needs with new solutions using people, process and technology.
  • Engage with and educate lawyers: Being able to spot opportunities or identify core jobs to be done is not a skill that is taught as part of the legal curriculum.  We share our experiences and help our legal teams and clients develop these skills.
  • Foster partnerships for the future: Beyond the firm, we collaborate across a broad ecosystem that includes clients, startups, government institutions and other law firms to solve common challenges being faced in the legal industry.

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Over the past 18 months working in the lab we have also learned a few important lessons when it comes to making an innovation lab successful:

1. Ensure that your innovation activities support the firm's overall vision

There is a widely held belief that innovation is wild and unpredictable - that it requires endless freedom to thrive. In reality, without a clear strategy, innovation and improvement activities tend to be disparate and disconnected from the firm's overall business strategy. It is common to find an "innovation" group or function on a firm's website but it is not as common to find a definitive or considered strategy behind that. As such, innovation can often be a frustrating pursuit - this frustration does not stem from the execution of individual projects but is more likely linked to a failure to have a clear vision of what one is trying to achieve or an idea of how it can be. 

As such, it is critical to understand the primary vision and objectives of the business you are innovating. Innovation for the sake of innovation (or for the sake of marketing) will not add value unless it is tied to the business's overall objectives. In a law firm, this also means understanding individual practice area objectives and constraints.

2. Set clear, measurable milestones

You do not want to be lost at sea while you are innovating. You need to know your destination relatively early on in the planning phase. Often big organisations look at a problem or opportunity and ask how much it will cost and how long it will take, rather than asking a team to do what they can for X dollars over a short time frame and then assessing the progress. When budgets are open ended and horizons are too long, the risk of scope creep are high and it is difficult to manage the project and make decisions about its future.

Our lab has seen the strongest outcomes where we set short timeframes (e.g. a 12 week research phase with 2 week delivery intervals) and agree the outcome for each phase in advance, ensuring agile delivery or sometimes fast failure.

3. Build strong relationships and keep stakeholders engaged

All innovation labs ultimately need sponsorship – it is critical that sponsors are invested and can clearly see how your strategy links to their own business objectives. Similarly, relationships inside and outside of the firm are a necessary element of success. Our clients and other members of the community we work with tell us that having access to our experience has been very helpful and we feel the same about them!

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After months of helping to embed a culture of innovation, exploration and experimentation across the firm, we remain energized and positive about what the lab can achieve.  Our clients’ ever-evolving objectives and priorities are what inspire us to redefine the future of the legal industry and we look forward to continuing to create innovative and impactful solutions for years to come.