In the last 15 months, three large law firms announced legal tech R&D initiatives.

  1. Dentons issued a press release in May reporting that its new venture, NextLaw Labs,  is “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.” The NextLaw Labs website is worth reading.
  2. Allen & Overy, reports The Lawyer (7 April 2015), “invests seed corn funding into “experimental” technology group i2. The firm “is launching an experimental ‘ideas and investment’ group aimed at developing new technology-related opportunities, including in the area of artificial intelligence (AI).”
  3. Akerman launched an R&D Council in April 2014. The press release says “Akerman holds regular learning labs and innovation tournaments firm-wide to help bring new ideas to the market.”

I  periodically bemoan the lack of large law firm R&D, so was pleased to see these, even without knowing spend levels or outcomes. Formal R&D initiatives in Big Law heralds a new era.

And 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.

Would there be value in creating an “Am Law 100”-like league table of firms that take tech and R&D seriously? How would we construct it? Who would read it and why? And if we cannot actually construct it, does it have value as a thought experiment?

I am eager to hear from others whether this idea has merit. Also let me know if I have missed other formal R&D initiatives.