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R&D in Big Law

In June 2015 I wrote a blog post Law Firm R&D Initiatives Grow – Time for a League Table? In March 2016, after seeing another large firm R&D initiative announcement, I decided to create this page. I list here law firms that have formally announced or publicized research and development (R&D) or funded innovation initiatives.

As I noted in my blog post, what counts as real R&D may not always be clear:

Let’s not overlook that many other firms invest in building legal technology and new initiatives. US-based firms with online services include Baker Donelson, Littler, and Foley & Lardner (see my list of firms with online services for more examples). And other firms have invested in legal project management, Seyfarth and Gowlings most prominently. So with or without the R&D label, we know that many a firm invests time and money to pursue new ideas and competitive advantage.

For the list below, however, I stick with firms that have formally designated R&D or funded innovation efforts, via press releases or press reports. I welcome feedback (contact) on this list. Feel free to suggest additions (or deletions) and to comment on what the proper inclusion criteria should be.

Subsequent to publishing this list, based on crowdsourced feedback, I  included, in a separate table for large law firms that have announced partnerships with incubators or others to foster, support, and do R&D. I have also added DWT De Novo to the list of internal R&D.

I am adding to the list from March through May 2016. As of June 2016, I will note when I added a firm.

Kennedys (July 2017); Freshfields (March 2017); Ulster University with A&O + BM (Feb 2017); Baker McKenzie (Feb 2017); Mischon De Reya (Jan 2017); Osborne Clarke (Nov 2016); Simmons & Simmons (Nov 2016); DAC Beachcroft Innovations Lab (June 2016)

Law Firms with Internal R&D Units

Firm Service Name
Reference(s) + Comment(s)
Akerman R&D Council
(April 2014)
“plan to launch the first law firm R&D Council, dedicated to creating new offerings that advance the business of law and redefine service delivery models, jointly helping Akerman and its clients overcome future barriers to innovation and growth.” (Firm press release – see link)
See also
Allen & Overy i2
(April 2015)
The Lawyer Magazine reports here that  “Allen & Overy (A&O) is launching an experimental “ideas and investment” group aimed at developing new technology-related opportunities, including in the area of artificial intelligence (AI).” See also the A&O write-up in The Lawyer UK 200 Business Services 2016 (p. 66, subscription required).
Ashurst Ashurst Advance
(March 2016)
“Through Ashurst Advance, we are establishing an R&D capability to ensure that our offering continues to be market-leading and relevant. Applying insights from successful innovation in sectors outside legal, the Ashurst Advance team is focused on the capture, evaluation and deployment of new ideas, to ensure Ashurst remains at the forefront of change in the industry.” (See link)
See also firm press release
Baker McKenzie Design Thinking + Innovation program (Feb 2017) Innovation Program to Reimagine the Business of Law:

  • Investment framework for innovation announced
  • Design Thinking-based client co-creation model for Services
  • First of kind partnership with leading edge consultancy, Peer Insight
  • New Innovation Committee launched
  • Long-term investment strategy for emerging technologies”
Bryan Cave Innovation Team
(May 2016)
“Our award-winning Client Technology group researches and develops new technologies to deliver improved and more cost-effective services to clients.”
Cuatrecasas R&D
(June 2015)
Cuatrecasas brings in R&D budget and eyes startup market, Legal IT Insider (pdf, p 2), March 2016
DAC Beachcroft Innovations Labs
(May 2015)
DAC Beachcroft Claims Solutions Group has unveiled details of its Innovations Lab, a new R&D hub. Operating as a physical and virtual space, Innovations Lab will provide a creative environment in which multi-disciplinary teams of lawyers and operational experts can work collaboratively with clients and the wider insurance market to identify, evaluate, design, prototype and launch new commercial products and services.
Davis Wright Tremaine DWT De Novo
“Through DWT De Novo, the research and development arm of Davis Wright Tremaine, we’re re-imagining legal services. By applying people, process, and technology in new ways, our firm is delivering more efficient, transparent, and cost-effective legal services, ….” [De Novo home page]
Dentons NextLaw Labs
(May 2015)
“a global collaborative innovation platform focused on developing, deploying, and investing in new technologies and processes to transform the practice of law around the world.” (Firm press release – see link)
Freshfields  Global Associate Innovation Group
(Nov 2016)
Associates “will pitch their ideas at a senior level and any ideas that have legs will be given financial backing.” Legal IT Insider (March 2017, p. 5)
Gilbert & Tobin
g+t <i>
“g+t<i> brings together the G+T team with clients + startups to explore better ways of meeting the needs of our clients, new business models and more efficient business processes [via] rapid prototyping and a ‘fail fast’ and learn methodology. The g+t<i> team’s R&D process moves ideas and opportunities through 3 main phases:” Investigate, Incubate, Implement
Kennedys Ideas Lab
(July 2017)
“supported by ideation software Ideawake, is a platform through which any member of the firm can come forward with ideas about how to create future products + deliver modern legal services…  anchored to the firm’s core principle of helping clients to use lawyers less.” Legal IT Insider (27 July 2017)
Mishcon de Reya
“programme for tech start-ups in the legal space”
Osborne Clarke  Tech-related R&D
(Nov 2016)
“Osborne Clarke has set up an R&D budget specifically aimed at technology-related innovation as part of a push to grow technology investment levels firm-wide.” The Lawyer (29 Nov 2016); Legal IT Insider (30 Nov 2016)
Simmons & Simmons Time off for innovation
(Nov 2016)
Initiative launched, Nov 2016, to encourage lawyers + staff to apply for time to develop ideas. Simmons invites lawyers to pitch for time off from fee earning to develop innovative ideasLegal Week, 17 Nov 2016
Kennedy Van der Laan
Dedicated R&D Resources
(Mar 2016)
Independent “operating Knowledge and Innovation Center with [its] own Research and Development Budget” Firm brochure (PDF, downloaded March 2016)

Law Firms with Partnerships for R&D

Firm Business Partner
Reference(s) + Comment(s)
Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie Ulster University
(Feb 2017)
Legal Futures article (21 Feb 2017)
Blakes MaRS
(Feb 2016)
Firm landing page describing initiative.
McCarthy Tetrault MaRS
(Nov 2015)
Firm landing page describing initiative.
Osler Legal Innovation Zone
(Jan 2016)
Firm landing page describing initiative.