Last updated: May 29, 2013 6:44 pm

Foreword: Leading and lagging

©Martin O'Neill

This is the third year that the Financial Times has produced the US Innovative Lawyers special report. The report includes our unique rankings of law firms that are bringing fresh thinking and practices to solving business problems in America.

This year we have had a particularly strong set of submissions to the rankings, from more than 60 law firms and nearly half that number of in-house legal teams across the US. The submissions give an insight into some of the main business, regulatory and economic issues preoccupying America.

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IN US Innovative Lawyers 2012

Some of the most dynamic areas of the economy are showing themselves by the way they are pushing and changing the law to keep up with their innovations. These sectors include technology, social media, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and energy.

The litigation and finance sections of the report show that some four years after the start of the financial crisis, lawyers are helping to bring resolution to some of the bitter disputes arising from the credit crunch and the finalising of significant restructurings – though a few battles are still being fought.

The increased burden of regulation on US business, notably in the antitrust area and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act, has kept lawyers busy trying to lighten the load for clients in an innovative manner.

And while Asian and South American economies present great opportunities for US businesses, they can also pose threats – from copycat manufacturers and from alleged theft of intellectual property. Lawyers have been heavily involved in these controversies, such as in the smartphone wars.

But, while the US legal profession is moving into the 21st century in how it communicates with clients, the report suggests that, in terms of process innovation, US firms lag behind those in the UK. While there are the beginnings of change, relatively few top firms have tackled seriously their hourly fee models, despite the increasingly vociferous demands of clients. But as the in-house corporate counsel section of the report reveals, lawyers at top US companies are changing the rules of engagement.

I would like to pay particular thanks to Reena SenGupta, the inspiration for the rankings, whose RSG Consulting does the research; and to FT colleagues who have helped make the report such an annual landmark.

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