Reed Smith to give lawyers billing credits for work on innovation and technology projects

Reed Smith is rolling out a new programme that lets lawyers earn billable hour credits for time they spend promoting advances in legal technology and operations.

The firm launched a pilot version of the ‘Innovation Hours’ programme last year, with 17 lawyers dedicating 364 hours to six selected projects. This year, the firm will sign off on even more projects, while also flagging five particular client-facing endeavours for added support.

“We had a lot of people wanting to engage in new technologies, process improvement, and new ways of working,” said Reed Smith’s London-based chief knowledge officer Lucy Dillon. “Being able to give people billing credit was the breakthrough way to say to people: ‘We really value your ideas and we want you to have the time and to be rewarded for the time to think things through.’”

The move comes as firms are competing for talent with the rising tech sector and legal industry disruptors, and looking to make their practice appealing to millennials. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, for example, has established its own innovation contest encouraging associates to pitch new business ideas, but Reed Smith’s version is open to lawyers at all levels.

For the inaugural effort last year, Dillon and Innovation Hub manager Alex Smith, who is also based in London, culled six ideas from a total of 30 submissions. Each lawyer involved was encouraged to put up to 50 “innovation hours” towards their billing targets.

Kari Larsen, global co-head of Reed Smith’s fintech practice, brought together a team of lawyers for one project: the production of an authoritative whitepaper on blockchain. Lawyers from the firm’s US, UK, Singapore, Beijing and Hong Kong offices were involved in drafting the report, which takes on subjects including data privacy, insurance and capital markets. 

“With having the hours, we were able to recruit various experts in the fields from around the firm,” she said.

Another project led to the successful launch of the firm’s new Breach RespondeRS app, a free tool that simplifies the application of the patchwork of US state laws to let companies focus on protecting data.

Other efforts involved teams in the US, Europe and Asia working on the automation of contracts and documents; a review of databases of previous cases and outcomes to identify trends in the managed care industry; and work with a fintech startup on a new technology model.

Dillon said she was pleased with the seriousness and maturity with which all participants – who included associates, partners and of counsel – handled the work. There was no overbilling or wasted hours.

“They came, put a business case forward and had to articulate what they hoped to achieve,” she said. “It was very well managed.”

For 2018, there is no cap on the number of projects that will be approved, but Dillon will prioritise certain ideas and work closely with practice group leaders to ensure they work.

“I want to make sure there’s rigour around the projects that we support,” she said.

Five projects that have direct impact on the firm’s clients will get special attention. They’ll be part of a fast-track, 12-week programme where an extra level of support will come from Smith and consulting firm Janders Dean.

The announcement comes on the heels of Reed Smith’s establishment of a legal technology programme for select summer associates in both the US and the UK. Five law school students – three in the US and two in the UK – will spend part of their summer developing projects that use tech to improve legal services.

  • Reed Smith senior counsel Roger Parker is among the speakers at this year’s Strategic Technology Forum, which will take place in Italy this June. Subjects on the agenda include AI, the war for tech-savvy millennial talent, and how to react to a public hacking. Click here for more information.