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‘You have to be proactive’ to be a successful law firm

Anticipating client needs and being proactive in your firm strategy are key elements of being an innovative law firm, according to this award-winning innovator.

user iconLauren Croft 08 April 2022 Big Law
‘You have to be proactive’ to be a successful law firm
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Caryn Sandler is a partner and chief knowledge and innovation officer at Gilbert + Tobin. She’s also the winner of the Innovator of the Year category at the 2021 Partner of the Year Awards. Speaking on an episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, in partnership with Commonwealth Bank of Australia and co-hosted by Daniela Pasini, the national director of professional services at Commonwealth Bank.

In terms of what innovation means to her, Ms Sandler said that, particularly within the legal industry, innovation is multidimensional.

“Innovation is really around continuous improvement. It’s about enhancing the way in which we deliver legal services to deliver value and also better outcomes for our clients, and also our lawyers,” she said.


“I think if I reflect back on innovation, let’s say five, six years ago or so, you would all recall many of the images in the media around robots taking over lawyers’ jobs, and technology’s certainly going to replace lawyers. I think we’ve seen no evidence of that thus far. But what we are starting to see is real focus on holistic innovation. And I think that’s also because there are lots of different factors driving innovation. It’s more around how people come together, how process or re-engineering process comes together, as well as technology and the mindsets you actually need to really enable innovation within the legal industry.”

Holistic innovation has become increasingly common throughout the pandemic, as law firms operate in a “favourable environment”. However, changing client expectations mean that firms will need to continue to invest in new tech to drive efficiency, added Ms Sandler.

“Clients are aware of the enabling technologies of innovation within legal, so there is that expectation that the law firms in which they engage with are leveraging these. So, it is absolutely critical to use the technologies to re-engineer processes to rethink service delivery because of these changing client expectations. And that’s not going away. And even though the demand is so high, it is not going away.

“I think another really interesting angle at the moment is retention of quality talent within the legal industry. There is no doubt again that there is a skill shortage off the back of the pandemic. So, I think firms are going to really need to innovate in the way in which they engage with their lawyers, in the way in which they support their lawyers through this uncertainty. Keep them engaged, invest in their development. And when I refer to investing in their development, I don’t only mean in their legal development. Because I think the lawyer of the future is going to be far broader than just doing analytical legal skills. And that is absolutely critical, and I always talk about this,” she continued.

“To invest in your legal skills is absolutely key. We are lawyers, after all. But still, there is the importance of understanding data, technology literacy. So, definitely that investment is absolutely critical. And I think we’re going to start seeing this. And also, the use of technology to enhance productivity, to ensure that we actually have the ability to meet the demand, is going to be critical as well.”

Managing client expectations is also part of being an innovative and successful law firm post-pandemic, according to Ms Sandler.

“If you are innovative, if you are going to be a successful law firm, you have to be proactive in your thinking when it comes to what our clients want. If we think about what clients want to want. They want a real true partner in this service provider,” she said.

“And that involves both being reactive in that when somebody comes to you and asks for legal advice, you are able and willing to support them. But then really anticipating what the legal needs will be, what the changes are within the legal industry over the next couple of years. That’s all critical and certainly part of us being a trusted partner to our clients, which goes beyond just delivering on legal advice.”

And when asked what the most important aspects are in the pursuit of meaningful innovation, Ms Sandler said that it comes down to “reshaping legal service delivery in a holistic manner”.

“It’s not about using that shiny piece of legal technology. It’s more about sustained efforts to get meaningful innovation. And what I mean by that is you need to deliver on a series of initiatives when you are implementing a transformation sort of journey or program. But it’s the sustained efforts that actually change the culture within organisations to really focus on that continuous improvement,” she said.

“And often for organisations, that’s new to them, that continuous improvement and wanting to do things differently. But even if it might be small and quick wins along the way, you actually get to that end outcome by really focusing on it, having that tenacity, that determination to ensure that everything we do is really to enhance innovation and to enhance service delivery for better outcomes for our clients.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Caryn Sandler, click below:

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