Welcome to the Financial Times North America Innovative Lawyers report for 2016. On the eve of Donald Trump’s presidency, the role of the law — and lawyers — in North America over the coming years looks increasingly important. The FT Innovative Lawyers reports have always examined how the profession is changing. But now we face a period of great political, economic and social uncertainty, we may be looking to lawyers to be forces for stability and calm.

There are some big changes in this year’s FT Innovative Lawyers report. The most important is to the rankings. We have made them more relevant to our business readership by creating categories that describe in non-legal ways what lawyers actually do.

In doing so, we reveal how the profession is evolving. The days of the passive professional have long gone. Instead, we uncover a profession that is interacting with its clients in dynamic ways, and is capable of great creativity in legal, regulatory and commercial spheres.

Individual lawyers profiled in this report have made a lasting impact on their business field, and are often in the vanguard of new and developing industries such as fintech and biosciences, where they are enabling their clients to innovate.

However, lawyers are not just about business innovation: as our Social Responsibility categories show, lawyers are forces for social change not only in North America, but around the world. They are working on and influencing critical social issues such as the refugee crisis, race relations and police accountability.

Lawyers are also at the cutting edge of technology: as clients push not only for lower legal costs but also for better data and analysis of emerging trends, the profession is embracing digitisation in all manner of innovative ways.

We received 342 submissions from nearly 70 law firms and researched the same number of corporate legal departments. Our research partner RSG Consulting conducted nearly 400 interviews, including with legal experts and senior executives in companies.

The competition has never been tougher for a place in the Innovative Lawyers report.

Gillian Tett is the FT’s US managing editor

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