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Sun 24 Mar 2019 11:26 AM

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The role of legal firms in fostering innovation

Clients look for professionals who can provide a proactive commercial solutions to their current and future business concerns

The role of legal firms in fostering innovation
Legal advisors can help with advancing the innovation ecosystem in the Gulf region for the interest of their clients

As an industry, the legal sector has never been known for its speed in embracing change and coping with the new business realities.

However, with new emerging technologies impacting the business landscape at a global scale, legal firms are also having to move with the times. And what’s more, the evolving business dynamics are driving an unprecedented shift in the legal needs of clients.

The pace of shift is more pronounced in the case of clients that are either embarking on or undergoing a transformation as part of their innovation journey, and also among those clients whose’ businesses are either directly or indirectly impacted by the socioeconomic changes that are mostly innovation-driven.

Within the GCC, the UAE is leading on innovation with myriad initiatives. And this demonstrates the country and its leadership’s ability to recognise the importance of innovation and ensure it is quickly embedded in every aspect of modern life and across different services and sectors – from transportation, healthcare, and education to policy-making and infrastructure developments. Hence, it comes as no surprise to see how the UAE’s innovation agenda and pace is rapidly converging and cascading over from government to the many companies and businesses operating within the emirates.

Legal firms must commit to investing in their innovation advisory capabilities so that they are able to support clients

Clients’ expectations from their legal advisors during the process of innovating

Most government bodies and companies in the region view innovation as a holistic process rather than a one-off which is a great mindset to begin with. However, the innovation process is beyond a standard business transformation and can be seemingly more gruelling and complex because it requires a complete change of track from the entity’s day-to-day routine. It involves transforming news ideas into real, tangible outcomes.

In this context, government departments and companies in the process of innovating are increasingly turning to law firms to aid them in this complex journey.

Clients expect their legal advisors to provide them with proactive commercial solutions to their current and potential business issues, rather than reactive legal advice to problems that have already arisen.

In addition, they are looking for legal consultants who can help them with driving their business during their journey of innovation – from ideation and conceptualisation to maturation and commercialisation. And this requires advisors to possess in-depth commercial acumen and knowledge of their client’s industry, business model, innovative solutions requirements, the new technologies that are being adopted, coupled with an understanding of the regulatory landscape and its requirements.

The challenge for innovators is to cope with the regulatory framework as they are looking to innovate

How legal firms can help clients in their innovation journey

Innovation involves rethinking or rewiring a business process or redesigning a business product that already exists. It requires encouragement, collaboration, and communication, but it also requires managing change in accordance with the current regulatory framework. By their nature, laws and regulations change at a slower pace. This creates tension with the pace of innovation and the introduction of new technology required to drive innovation. The challenge for innovators is to cope with the regulatory framework as they are looking to innovate, whereas the challenge for the regulatory bodies is to understand the real impact of these innovations on the economy and overall society and to set the regulatory bar wisely.

If legal firms can step in and close these gaps effectively, then that would contribute towards (a) enhancing their clients’ chances for commercial success and (b) successful deployment of their clients’ innovation-led offerings within the complex regulatory and commercial landscapes. Also, by working closely with the other players in the ecosystem, including universities, entrepreneurs, governmental entities and regulators, legal advisors can help with advancing the innovation ecosystem inside the region for the interest of their clients and all parties involved.

Ultimately, if lawyers can empower their clients to deliver on their innovation agendas and as clients get more comfortable about driving their business goals creatively –  that would spur further innovation in the economy.

Ensuring innovating companies of all sizes have increased access to legal services

SMEs and start-ups in particular can have a hard time navigating the ever-evolving legal framework. And it is this very section of the economy that needs the expert advice but is not always able to access appropriate legal counsel or services that they require.

Law firms need to keep up and should strive to be one step ahead of their clients so that they can properly guide and support them

SMEs and start-ups are growing and developing at a frenetic pace. Law firms need to keep up and should strive to be one step ahead of their clients so that they can properly guide and support them and allow their clients to focus on innovation and change.

Understanding the importance and pace of innovation and having a solid understanding of the technical, business and legal implications affecting government departments and companies looking to innovate is of paramount importance. In addition, legal firms must commit to investing in their innovation advisory capabilities so that they are able to support clients and meet them at their point of need with targeted and relevant services and the right lawyers equipped with the skill sets and tools to deliver them.

After all, as a legal consultant, if you don’t understand the nuances of innovation and the fundamental changes that your clients are experiencing in the face of innovation, you are bringing limited value to the table. In the burgeoning world of innovation, where technology is bringing the customer experience to the fore, customer centricity must also sit at the heart of legal services delivery.

As a legal consultant, challenge yourself and ask – am I really helping my clients to “future proof” their business so that they can consistently innovate and stay ahead of the curve even as regulatory environment evolves? If the answer is yes, your contribution to fostering innovation in the economy is indeed palpable.

About the authors: Martin Hayward has over 12 years’ experience advising on the full range of commercial, outsourcing, telecommunications, technology, intellectual property and information law issues. Ahmad Saleh has worked for reputable Canadian and international law firms in the fields of Intellectual Property and Commercial Law before joining Al Tamimi in September 2013.