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GCs Name Most Innovative Law Firms

In a legal world where traditional approaches to clients' issues often reign supreme, three firms have caught the eye of general counsels for utilizing particularly fresh perspectives that differentiate them from their more traditional peers and provide clients with a competitive advantage, according to a new survey.
Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP received the highest marks for innovation in The BTI Client Service A-Team 2016 report published by The BTI Consulting Group Inc. of Wellesley, Massachusetts, which ranks the quality of law firms' services for corporate clients.
BTI President Michael B. Rynowecer said law firms' use of innovative approaches — one of the categories used to rank the firms — has significantly grown in importance in the eyes of in-house attorneys since the survey's debut 15 years ago.
“Innovation has become more important than a law firm being international or global in scope because [corporate counsels] believe innovation will get them a better outcome,” Rynowecer said.
The BTI report noted that innovation doesn’t come just from technology, but rather from a law firm being able to bring new and creative thinking to bear in order to solve clients’ issues.
“True innovation requires an unmatched understanding of the client’s business in order to deliver a competitive advantage,” the BTI report said.
Jones Day and Kirkland & Ellis each garnered similar “best of the best” praise for their innovative approaches in last year's survey, while Skadden, which last earned the top distinction in the category in 2013, returned to the list of most innovative firms this year after its brief hiatus.
Rynowecer noted that the innovation category in the A-Team survey is something of a statistical anomaly, since about 15 to 20 percent of respondents “don't care about innovation” because they “buy solely on price” and always seek out the lowest rates.
But the other approximately 80 percent, according to Rynowecer, find innovative approaches by law firms “extremely important” and are willing to pay a premium to get it.
“It's important in attracting new business,” Rynowecer said.
The idea of innovation has shifted over the years from firms providing alternate fees to now being more about educating clients, Rynowecer said, adding that the most innovative firms on the 2016 list often provide clients with very specific information.
They also design customized continuing legal education sessions for clients and provide tools for clients to educate themselves, he said.
Skadden, the only firm in this year's “best of the best” trio to not have received that accolade a year ago, has moved into that stratosphere by taking its complex transactions and turning them into lessons for clients to improve their practices, according to Rynowecer.
“Skadden has been working at this for a number of years and is turning it into an art form,” Rynowecer said.
Glen Nager, a client affairs partner at Jones Day, told Law360 in an emailed statement Monday that as a global law firm representing some of the world's largest companies, Jones Day "could not survive if we were not at the forefront of innovation.”  
“Our clients create groundbreaking products, services and solutions, and expect us to create similarly groundbreaking solutions to complex legal problems," Nager said. "And, we do."  
Meanwhile, Kirkland & Ellis partner Gregory S. Arovas, who leads the firm's intellectual property practice, said Monday that the firm has striven for years to create an environment where clients' needs are handled collaboratively by teams of attorneys that work together to provide the best possible service.
Such collaborative practices include creating a structure where multiple attorneys can act as points of contact for a client and working to comprehend the broader business goals of a client beyond just particular cases.
“We recognized that few disputes are really about the specific matter,” he said. “We engage clients in order to truly understand their businesses.”
Arovas also noted that Kirkland & Ellis encourages its clients to provide them with feedback, even in instances “when it is constructively critical.”
“It's not just [about whether] we did a good job, but about how we can do a better job next time,” Arovas said.
The A-Team report polled about 320 top legal decision makers at Fortune 1000 and other major corporations in more than 15 industries. Interviews were conducted from March through early September.