32 of the Am Law 200 have begun a sprint to drive entrepreneurship in the legal industry. Each of these law firms have invested $1 million or more in non-billable talent.

To be more specific, these are the firms that have hired a Chief Innovation Officer (CINO), a role focused on identifying profitable new combinations of people, processes, and technologies.

CINOs are creating new solutions, new services to sell, and new ways to avoid shrinking margins.

Why now?

At long last, artificial intelligence and NextGen legal technologies have become a reality. They are now user friendly, and are rapidly becoming even more so. More importantly, they create significant opportunities for law firms to better serve their clients.

Technology allows legal firms to be more productive and efficient. It creates opportunities to provide faster and better service. It can create literal advantages for clients.

CINOs are highly motivated to understand, experiment with, and expand profitable new uses of technologies… including AI and machine learning. And, yes, such tools have become mature enough to use in a predictable and reliable manner.

Their role is to help the law firm become indispensable through a paradigm shift of the marketplace as the legal industry embraces AI and NextGen technology.

This new breed of legal entrepreneurs will look to other industries for guidance; all industries are finding their profit margins under pressure as they get squeezed into commodity positions. They will likely recognize that the answers lie in using technology to provide customized, meaningful new services that support their clients’ best interests.

Looking forward at the talent landscape…

Our 2018 talent roadmap projects another 30 professionals will be hired or promoted into a CINO role this year, even before including business-savvy drivers of innovation working in big four consulting firms and at other strategic vendors.

These professionals will increasingly command a base salary of $350,000 to $525,000 plus a 30-40% bonus.  

As we head towards 100 CINOs, the market will parallel what happened ten years ago in the eDiscovery space, and five years ago in the cybersecurity space: demand for talent increases, and a war for talent begins. Talent will begin to move, perhaps pushing compensation higher.

To generalize a bit, I’d expect that…

One-third of CINOs will be successful in driving their firms forward.

Another third will lack the personal talent, internal resources, budget, and executive support to win big. Their firms will start looking for new CINO talent, and the top group will be offered more money and opportunity.

A new 30 will enter the market from consulting and elsewhere, to begin to fill the gap. Another 30 will be promoted from within; number twos will become number ones. Meanwhile, the most successful number ones will become highly visible stars.

One last point… some remain skeptical that this new breed of legal entrepreneurs can change an industry that hasn’t changed much in decades. But I urge such colleagues to remember that many thought Uber would never topple the taxi industry, either. There is literally nothing about the legal industry that protects it from being changed by technology.

David Cowen is President of The Cowen Group, the premier staffing and recruiting firm focusing exclusively on eDiscovery, Practice Management, Legal Operations, Privacy, Security and Information Governance professionals.

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