Innovation. It’s become one of those buzzwords, like excellence, that everyone claims but few live up to. But 10 of those few are profiled in this issue of InsideCounsel, a collection of legal departments that clearly turn the old stereotype on its head. Are legal departments—and the lawyers who run them—hidebound, stodgy, set in their ways, separated from the real work of the company that employs them? Not these 10. Consider, for example:

  • How NetApp moved past, as they put it, “the old routine of maintaining a lean legal department by reducing budgets, managing costs and minimizing dependence on outside counsel” to develop not only new software but also a new collaborative ethos that “incited behavioral change” throughout the company.
  • How University Hospitals rethought its liability claims reporting system not only to streamline the process but also to make sure that lessons learned were incorporated, ensuring better performance and quality of care in the future. 
  • How Adknowledge moved from a traditionally reactive practice seen by the company as a “business inhibitor” to a metrics-driven department in which lawyers claim ownership of projects and approach them not only proactively but strategically.
  • How The Hartford embraced the promise of social media with a customized tool envisioned as a dynamic governance model.

What may be most important, however, is not just what happened at the legal department level, but the extent to which change driven by the legal department—so often marginalized by the corporation as a whole—cascaded throughout the enterprise. At University Hospitals, for example, the legal department’s innovation has resulted in an institutionwide program called “Just Culture,” which ensures “no one reporting an event in good faith will suffer retaliation of any kind.” And at Motorola Mobility, companywide programs initiated by the law department, such as Flash Class (identifying top training needs) and online ethics training, have helped to improve morale throughout the company.

This is great news. And a great start. But it’s just the beginning. Starting this fall, InsideCounsel will be launching an Innovative Business Process Advisory Group, which will meet periodically, charged with defining what innovation in law departments looks like. Complementing the group’s work will be a series of regional workshops in which GCs and heads of law department operations will present their perspectives on the same question. All of which should make next year’s IC10 more competitive than ever.