Practice Management

Chief innovation officer talks firm's changing culture amid COVID-19 and best tips for working remotely

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Ari Kaplan

Ari Kaplan. Photo by Lauren Hillary.

Ari Kaplan recently spoke with Patrick DiDomenico, the chief innovation officer for Jackson Lewis, a large national labor and employment-focused law firm with more than 60 offices throughout the United States. He is also the author of Knowledge Management for Lawyers, published by the American Bar Association in 2016.

Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and your role at Jackson Lewis.

Patrick DiDomenico: I started at Jackson Lewis on Nov. 21, 2019, so I just celebrated my four-month anniversary, but I have been responsible for knowledge management in law firms for about 15 years. Prior to those roles, I was a practicing litigator.

Ari Kaplan: What is your mission as chief innovation officer?

Patrick DiDomenico: To foster a strong innovation-centric culture at the firm that fuels valuable and positive change. In many ways, innovation is directly related to change management. It is about managing that process to improve client service and to provide a better client experience. As a former practicing attorney and knowledge management leader, I recognize that user experience, design thinking and technology development are central to achieving these objectives.

Ari Kaplan: What have been the greatest challenges for you in navigating that mission in the current crisis?

Patrick DiDomenico: The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for everyone, and the situation seems to be changing every hour. Given our firm’s focus, we are helping employers navigate the current environment, but our lawyers were prepared for this because many of them often work remotely, whether from home, on an airplane or at a client site. Our advice and counsel lawyers, in particular, are working really hard to provide guidance in a time of great uncertainty. As someone with an innovation background, I typically like change, though only when it is thoughtful, strategic and adds value. The current period of rapid change is very unpredictable, which makes it uniquely complex.

Ari Kaplan: How are you managing the rapid pace at which requests for assistance have been coming into your team?

Patrick DiDomenico headshotPatrick DiDomenico.

Patrick DiDomenico: Our challenge is deploying the right people to the right places with the appropriate tools to help them achieve their objectives. Given that innovation is all about creating new approaches to existing and novel problems, we are routinely thinking about how we can solve each problem with what we have available. We are also recording our tactics for overcoming internal obstacles with the hashtag #LessonsLearned and plan to revisit each of them to update our response in the future. We are capturing all of these issues for after-action reviews to assess about how we can we implement improvements. After all, in addition to identifying good ideas, innovation is about applying and approaching change for the better.

Ari Kaplan: What are some best practices that law firms should employ as they adapt to a completely remote working environment?

Patrick DiDomenico: Assuming the technology is in place, it comes down to great communication and empathy. In the past two weeks, for example, we have been engaging in a daily scrum, similar to the typical standup meeting that software development teams apply, to make sure that each person knows what his or her peers are doing and the teams love it. They love getting together and checking in. It really helps ,and this situation, in particular, calls for it since we are all spread out. When you can’t walk down the hall and pop your head into someone’s office, the daily check-in is great. And when we are all at home, we have to understand that people have pets, crying babies and lives they are living while working, so we need to be more forgiving about the background noise and exercise a higher level of patience. You have to be empathetic and understand that this is tough for everyone. Those are the two keys to getting through this together.

Ari Kaplan: What mistakes should firms avoid?

Patrick DiDomenico: I love to test the latest applications, but right now is probably not the best time to experiment with new technology since everyone is really busy and responsiveness is so time sensitive. Choose your tools wisely because applying updates at a time of such rapid change amidst huge volumes of work is usually not the best approach. That said, leverage the right technology and adapt as necessary.

Ari Kaplan: How are you helping your team and your firm’s professionals upskill in this moment?

Patrick DiDomenico: This is a great opportunity for many people to upskill, especially when the enormous spike of work levels off. It doesn’t even have to be exclusively focused on legal. It could be an effort to enhance your software skills, including enhancing your mastery of Excel or Word. Our firm offers an online learning platform that features videos, articles and interactive lessons, but there is also so much free information online. Knowledge management and innovation success is all about efficiency, so if you know how to use tools well, you can be more effective. With that in mind, learn how to use your firm’s enterprise search system and its intranet. Become more familiar with the array of available content, so the next time you are searching for an item, you can find it more easily. Ultimately, some professionals may be able to use this time to evaluate their practices and the benefits associated with potential changes.

Ari Kaplan: How do you see law firms continuing to evolve?

Patrick DiDomenico: Lawyers will always find ways to help their clients. Late on a Friday night and early on Saturday, we were working with a group of our lawyers and professionals, including data analysts, to provide custom metrics for a client meeting being held over the weekend to accommodate this crisis. Firms are going to continue to serve their clients and, like us, see every obstacle as an opportunity. This is a challenging time, but we are learning a lot every day and growing stronger with each lesson. Law firms will definitely adapt. There is always going to be a need for great legal service, which will only become more prominent and important.

Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.

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