Each September, Inside Counsel published its “IC 10″, the annual winners of the magazine’s top 10 innovative law departments (The 2011 IC10 winners). By my read, not much serious innovation is taking place.  

Only two of 10 winners caught my eye as interesting. First, one company uses online bidding to buy legal services. AGCO, a Fortune 500 farm-equipment manufacturer, created a preferred network of law firms willing to price services flexibly, then used Ariba (software for spend management) to have the firms bid “on projects involving commercial contracts, immigration, environmental health and safety, employment, and M&A.” Between the bidding and converging the number of firms from over 300 to 100, the company saves $4 million annually. [A recent Wall Street Journal article notwithstanding, I am not persuaded this practice is widespread.]

Second, NetApp, a storage and data management company, decided to “streamline efficiency by incorporating Web 2.0 technology within the legal department.” Connie Brenton, NetApp’s chief of staff and head of operations, used a group of five local law students to design and build “an easy-to-use social network for all legal department employees.”

As for the rest, the “innovations” did not strike me as particularly new or special. For example, by my reading, two insurers won for creating somewhat cross-disciplinary teams to meet new legal challenges. Maybe I missed the point, but I thought that was what any organization has to do to get work done. [Pfizer also won a place for its alliance of 19 firms that do 75% of the company’s work at fixed fees. I don’t mean to under-rate this, but this is old news.]

Let’s say I am right that 7 or 10 winners are doing ordinary work. Perhaps law departments are just not going public with their innovations. I fear, however, it just means little game-changing innovation takes place in law departments.