Simmons invites lawyers to pitch for time off from fee earning to develop innovative ideas

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Simmons & Simmons has launched a new initiative to foster innovation at the firm, with lawyers encouraged to apply for time off from fee earning to develop ideas to modernise the firm’s business.

The initiative, which is open to all staff, will see proposals assessed by an ‘innovation group’ of partners and directors put together to oversee the development of new ideas.

The group – which is chaired by financial markets head Jonathan Hammond, alongside 10 partners and the firm’s directors of HR, IT and marketing and business development – will allocate time to staff to work on their ideas and evaluate whether they merit further financial support.

The group has also been tasked with keeping on top of new ways of working and emerging technologies in the legal market.

Simmons received more than 30 applications to fill the 10 partner posts on the innovation group, with eight London partners appointed alongside two representatives from the firm’s Germany and Dubai offices.

Innovation group COO Ben McGuire, who joined Simmons this May from the Takeover Panel, said: “We have set aside resources to allow fee earners and business services professionals to spend some of their time working on their own ideas. Time will be made available for all staff, regardless of seniority, qualification or role – this is a firm-wide activity and we need to enable contributions from all our people.

“Initially this will be done on an application basis, so lawyers will request time from the group; this will be so we can track the time used but it will not be because those using it are required to come up with a brilliant idea at the end – this is time for exploration and reflection.”

Some of the partners in the group have already developed their own innovative ideas. City finance partner Charlotte Stalin (pictured above) created the firm’s online regulatory subscription service Navigator, while London intellectual property partner Angus McLean spearheaded the launch of a £100,000 fund to support financial technology startups.

Navigator launched in 2007, a year after Stalin joined the firm as a partner from Clifford Chance (CC), where she had worked in both Sweden and London. Due to her experience of dealing with cross-border issues at CC, Stalin was given the opportunity to work on a project for a hedge fund client who wanted access to regulations in different jurisdictions.

“I stepped into it, one thing led to another, and I soon realised how I could apply my approach to the project to commoditise information and service the cross-border needs of other clients more efficiently,” she said.

The Navigator product now has a subscription base of more than 330 financial services groups and in excess of 7,000 individual users.

“I created Navigator from scratch with the support from fellow partners and senior management: the IT platform, content output, marketing and sales,” said Stalin.

The firm has since launched other tools led by Stalin, including the MiFID2 Manager, which was designed to provide guidance on the EU’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive. This product’s subscribers include 37 financial services groups and nearly 800 individual users.

Stalin is currently leading the development of a ‎new service called Brexit Transition Toolkit, which is aimed at clients considering relocating to Europe who may need guidance with the local regulatory rules in EU member states.

Meanwhile, McLean’s project, known as the S&S FinTech Fund, offers free legal advice to UK fintech startups. The first recipients of the fund, announced last month, include Alterest, which brings transparency to non-bank credit markets, and Cuvva, which provides hourly car insurance on demand.

“I came up with the idea for the fund before I made partner, about two and half years ago,” said McLean. “As far as I was aware no law firm had done this sort of thing before, so there was no pre-existing formula to follow.”

McLean faced a challenge to get internal buy-in from a range of Simmons partners. “If you’re not a partner, it is not always that easy to know how you go about building that sort of consensus. I think the process that I went through in getting approval to launch the fund will help smooth the way for similar ideas to be escalated in a really streamlined way in the future.”

Innovation group members

Jonathan Hammond (chairman) – international head of financial markets, London Ben McGuire – COO Philip Bartlett – employment partner, London James Coleman – corporate partner, Dubai Darren Fox – regulatory partner, London Caroline Hunter-Yates – litigation partner, London Jochen Kindermann – regulatory partner, Duesseldorf/Frankfurt Michael Lorraine – capital markets partner, London Angus McLean – intellectual property partner, London Charlotte Stalin – finance partner, London Nick Skerrett – tax partner, London Khasruz Zhaman – corporate partner, London Eddie Bowman – marketing and business development director Dan Flint – HR director Stuart Rowlands – IT director