FT Innovative Lawyers 2020 North America

The Covid-19 pandemic, protests against systemic racism, geopolitical upheaval — these factors have pushed every industry to address not just what it means to be innovative, but what it means to be sustainable.

This is also the 15th year that the Financial Times and RSG Consulting, its research partner, have been publishing Innovative Lawyers reports. When the FT Innovative Lawyers project began in 2006, few law firms or in-house legal departments talked about innovation. Now the word is ubiquitous, but the need for the profession to modernise its approach to practice, people and operations is more pressing than ever.

The structure of the report will change this year, reflecting the unusual circumstances of 2020. Our focus moves from giving awards to scrutinising the evolution of the legal profession. It will be less of a competition and more of a celebration of best practice.

The number of report categories (and award categories) will be smaller in order to dedicate more editorial space to explore topical questions, critical trends and the future of the industry. Our research team are adapting their methodology to reflect the new focus. The approach will focus more on surveys and big-picture analysis than on case-study based interviews.

The FT Innovative Lawyers’ awards event will be virtual this year. It will be broadcast live, using a documentary style to explore how the profession has changed in 2020. It will reach a much broader audience than the traditional legal industry attendees, and cover the profession as an industry sector facing its own turmoil.

While we will continue to present awards, we will also focus on celebrating organisations and individuals who have brought a spirit of optimism, innovation and collaboration to their response to the crises in a multitude of ways.


Private practice section:

Law firms are invited to make one submission for each of the following categories. In addition to assessing these, the research team will use surveys and interviews to conduct research with people at the firm.

Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic: this category is for firms to make submissions on special projects that were launched to help with the response to the global pandemic. This could be through services offered, or support given to clients, pro bono projects to support the community, or internal initiatives to support staff at the firm. (One submission per firm)

The practice of law: submissions are invited from an individual legal practitioner or team of practitioners working in any legal practice area who can show how their practice of law has changed. Submissions should describe a team or individual who are innovating in the practice of law, with specific case study examples. The submissions should show how lawyers have crossed professional sector boundaries, created new standards, delivered outstanding outcomes for clients or created new practice areas, with originality and impact. (One submission per firm)

Individual leaders: submissions are invited from individual law firm leaders (managing partners, senior partners, chairs, chief executives and other leaders in the business) who can show a track record of innovation and impact within their organisations, whether through improving growth and financial performance, diversity and inclusion, or driving digital transformation. (One individual per firm)

The future of work: submissions are invited from law firms that describe ways in which working culture and practices have changed in the light of Covid-19. Submissions are invited from law firms that can show how they are changing the way office spaces are used or the way they recruit, train, include and progress their staff. (One submission per firm)

Diversity and social justice: submissions are invited that detail innovative ways in which firms are addressing issues of social inequality in terms of race, sexuality and gender. (One submission per firm)

Corporate law department section:

In-house teams are invited to make a single submission outlining any examples of work they would like to share, reflecting the following topics, along with contact details for the head of the department and a commercial reference who can be made available for interview.

Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic: how the legal team helped the business to respond to the challenges posed by the onset of the global pandemic.

Strategic and risk advisers: this includes cases where the general counsel and legal function has partnered with the business to give commercial and strategic advice that has significantly enhanced the organisation, including pre-empting problems and securing the business from threats.

Operational management: ways in which legal operations have been transformed or enhanced, particularly through better processes or an improved use of technology and data.

The future of work: ways in which working culture and practices have changed, from changing the way office spaces are used to the way they recruit, train, include and progress their staff. This can relate specifically to the legal team, or the role the legal team is playing in helping the business adapt to new ways of working.

Diversity and social justice: ways in which legal teams are addressing the challenges of social inequality in terms of race, sexuality and gender.

How the report and the awards are assessed

The report will feature a selection of the submissions received, along with articles based on surveys and other qualitative research methods.

The submission deadline is Wednesday, September 23, 2020. The research process will run from September to November. The report will be published with the Financial Times newspaper on December 11, 2020 and launched at a virtual awards ceremony on December 10, 2020.

There is no cost for submitting entries but the project will be subject to the terms and conditions outlined in detail below.

The research partner for the FT Innovative Lawyers programme is RSG Consulting, a specialist research and consulting company with decades of experience analysing the legal industry.

The FT Innovative Lawyers programme is supported globally by lead partner Integra Ledger and HighQ (part of Thomson Reuters).

How to submit entries

All submissions must be made via the online submissions form.

PLEASE NOTE: You will first need to register an account before you can access the submissions website. To register an account, follow the link to the submissions form, or email ftresearch@rsgconsulting.com to request login details.

Submission format
All submissions must provide the following details and address the criteria set out below. Please note that word limits are enforced in the online entry forms.

  1. The challenge: What commercial problem or business issue is being solved? (75 word limit)
  2. Description of the innovation: A brief description of the individual, team or initiative. (75 word limit)
  3. Originality: Why is the individual, team or initiative innovative? Which elements are most original? (200 word limit)
  4. Leadership: What role did the lawyers, firm, individual or legal department play? For which aspects of the solution, approach, or implementation were the lawyers responsible? How did you arrive at the specific approach or solution that was finally adopted? (200 word limit)
  5. Impact: What was the impact of the innovation for the client, firm or key stakeholders? How can its success be measured? Where did the lawyers deliver the most value? Please include hard evidence. (200 word limit)
  6. References: All submissions must include contact details for at least one internal and at least one client or other external reference who can be contacted to discuss the details of the innovation on a confidential basis.

Rules for submitting
Time period:the 2020 ranking will assess innovations from January 1, 2019 onwards.

Submissions must be no longer than 750 words in total, written in English and answer each of the questions on the entry form.

Assessment of submissions
Submissions will be fully researched and will be assessed on their own merits. The RSG Consulting research team also uses independent experts in the assessment process. Entries will be judged against other submissions in each category.

Innovations and innovators will be scored for their originality, leadership and impact out of a total of 30 points.

Client references are a critical part of the assessment process. Contact details for internal and client or external referees must be included on every submission.

All submissions are assessed by RSG Consulting, a specialist legal-market research company that uses a process of interviews with clients, submitting lawyers and experts. The submissions are then scored against a bespoke ranking methodology, devised for the FT to assess innovation in law firms.

The rankings will be based primarily on submissions received but will also include fresh research, surveys and other qualitative research methods to uncover legal innovation in the region.

Assessment criteria will be based on local norms and benchmarks of innovation.

Awards and report

The planned awards event in New York has been cancelled; however, an online awards event will take place on December 10.


September 23, 2020 — deadline for submissions

November 2020 — awards shortlists revealed

December 10, 2020 — online awards event

December 11, 2020 — report publication on FT.com and with the Financial Times newspaper

Contact details

For research questions please contact RSG Consulting on +44 (0)20 7831 0300, ftresearch@rsgconsulting.com

For editorial inquiries please contact Harriet Arnold at the FT at harriet.arnold@ft.com (please put FTILNA in the subject field).

For advertising opportunities or other research sponsorship opportunities please contact Robert Grange, global franchise development director and head of special reports at the FT, robert.grange@ft.com or +44 (0)20 7873 4418; or Sarah Mohr, account manager, professional services, legal the FT, sarah.mohr@ft.com or +44 (0)20 7873 3195

For inquiries about the awards event please contact abigail.lewis@ft.com


There is no fee for entering submissions to FT North America Innovative Lawyers 2020.

The researchers reserve the right to move entries from one category to another if they feel it appropriate. The researchers’ decisions are final, and no correspondence will be entered into.

The FT and RSG Consulting accept no responsibility for the loss or damage of material submitted.

The FT reserves the right to publish the names of the firm or lawyers contained in the shortlist of outstanding entries, details and description of all entries and details of winners. All entrants grant the FT a perpetual, non-exclusive licence to publish details and descriptions of entries as referred to, and also agree to participate in publicity reasonably requested by the FT regarding their entry. The FT acknowledges that copyright in all entries remains vested with the entrants.

If you are shortlisted for, or win, an award, then the FT may at its discretion allow you to use the relevant FT Innovative Lawyers logo on your marketing materials. You acknowledge that FT is the owner of the logo and all related goodwill and agree that your use of the logo must be in accordance with any applicable FT branding guidelines in force from time to time or any instructions from the FT, that you will not use it as part of a composite mark or logo, and you will not use it in a manner which causes or is likely to cause confusion or a misleading association between your business and the FT, or damage to FT’s goodwill or reputation, or to the validity of any FT trademark. FT may terminate your right to use the logo at any time.

Please do not include any confidential information in your entry that you do not wish to enter the public domain because the FT is unable to guarantee that such information will not be published as set out above. Any inclusion of confidential information in an entry is at the entrant’s sole risk and responsibility and in knowledge of the FT’s request not to do so.

The FT reserves the right to cancel, postpone or suspend FT North America Innovative Lawyers 2020 at any time and to exclude any entries which it considers are inappropriate or do not comply with these terms and conditions. False or deceptive entries will render the entrant ineligible and such entries will be discarded.

The FT and RSG Consulting cannot accept responsibility for, or liability arising from, entrants taking part in the awards. To the fullest extent permissible by law, the FT and RSG Consulting exclude liability for all loss, damage or claim arising as a result of your entry to FT North America Innovative Lawyers 2020.

These terms and conditions shall be governed by and construed in accordance with English law. Disputes arising in connection with the awards shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

By submitting an entry, entrants will be deemed to have read, understood and agreed to these terms and conditions on behalf of their firm or organisation.

The submitter warrants that it has obtained all necessary consents required under applicable data protection and privacy laws to allow the sharing of any personal data contained in the submission with the FT. Contact information will only be used for the purposes of assessing each submission and will be processed in accordance with our privacy policy.

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