West: a route to future careers

City law firm Kennedys has launched what could become a new route to partnership for members of staff who can dream up ideas for tech products to help clients.

Anyone, lawyer or not, can put forward an idea for the firm’s Ideas Lab, which, provided it wins enough backing, could culminate in that person becoming CEO of a tech start-up.

Karim Derrick, head of research and development at Kennedys, said: “This is actually providing a new route to partnership for young lawyers. It encourages them to combine their legal skills with modern entrepreneurship skills.

“Partners, assistant solicitors, paralegals, IT people – it doesn’t matter where the best ideas bubble to the surface. They can stay with it, and become CEO of their product, if they want, or simply have the idea and let other people turn it into reality.”

Mr Derrick said the ideas are crowd-sourced using the software Ideawake, enabling anyone to “post their ideas” onto a kind of social network, which other members of the firm can ‘like’ or comment on.

The ideas then pass through a series of ‘gates’ before they are ready for development. The first ‘gate’ is getting enough likes or positive comments from colleagues. At this point Mr Derrick said he will help develop the ideas into business cases, along with Tom Gummer, a solicitor who in a previous life was the founder of a tech start-up.

Members of staff will then be invited to pitch their projects to a panel of partners on the law firm’s research and development board, in a similar way to Dragon’s Den, before a decision is made to invest and build a prototype.

“There are a number of criteria against which ideas are judged,” Mr Derrick said. “The most important aspect is alignment with client need. We are absolutely fixated on giving value to our clients through these processes.”

Mr Derrick said Kennedys was trying to replicate the success of its tech products like KLAiM, the virtual defence lawyer which now enables large clients to send instructions direct to counsel without the need for a solicitor. Another example was @scene, an app which helps employers record the circumstances of workplace accidents.

Ideas which emerge from the Dragon’s Den are considered for development into prototypes by Cognitive Computing Services, appointed by Kennedys specifically to facilitate the rapid development of projects from the Ideas Lab. Cognitive, based in Kerala, India, specialises in text analytics, machine learning and blockchain.

“The reason why this partnership is important is because we don’t want Ideas Lab processes to affect our ordinary business,” Mr Derrick said.

“All too often innovations fail because they take too many resources from business as usual.”

Once Cognitive has developed the prototype, the project returns to Kennedys for development in-house into the finished product.

Mr Derrick said the Ideas Lab was “switched on” yesterday, with the aim of the first “full-blown product” being finished this time next year. He said the summer was a good time to launch it. “People will be lying on the beach, dreaming up the most brilliant ideas.”

Richard West, head of Kennedys’ liability division, helped develop Ideas Lab with Mr Derrick and Mr Gummer.

He said: “The thinking behind the Ideas Lab is designed to keep us at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurialism – ensuring all staff, whatever their role or location, have a route to future careers that will emerge as the provision of legal services develop.

“We are aware that now more than ever clients are facing increased pressure on both their time and their budgets, and by finding solutions to streamline the delivery of legal services we can help to address both of these.”

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