Last year, when the pandemic first hit, became a test of resilience. This year will be a test of sustainability and collaboration for lawyers and their clients.

Amid economic and political uncertainty, leadership is required from lawyers. Innovation must match the accelerating pace of business and help find sustainable ways for clients to operate and grow. Lawyers also need to defend the idea that information can be trusted, and to make judgments in a complex legislative environment where developments in business often outpace regulatory change.

The FT Innovative Lawyers programme has evolved since the programme started more than 15 years ago. The 2021 report will contain fewer categories than in the past in order to dedicate more editorial space to exploring topical questions, critical trends and the future of the industry. We will use surveys on data and technology and the practice of law to supplement the research.

We have also launched our first global award, the Collaborative Innovation Award. The FT and RSG Consulting have long recognised innovation in the legal industry. This new award will run over the course of 2021 and will foster industry-wide innovation and collaboration within the FT Innovative Lawyers community. You can find out more about that collaborative innovation award and how to register here

The FT Innovative Lawyers North America awards event be broadcast live online and will feature panels of industry leaders, exploring how the profession has changed over the past year. 


Private practice categories

Law firms are invited to make submissions across six categories. Submissions will be researched by the RSG research team using benchmarks, interviews, surveys and other research. The overall ranking of the most innovative law firms in North America will be based on the aggregate score for each firm’s top three submissions, plus a score for the firm’s use of data and technology. Submitting firms will be asked to complete a short questionnaire about their use of technology and data, which will be shared with submitting firms after all submissions have been received. All surveys are confidential and answers will be anonymised.

Business of law: submissions are invited from law firms on any initiatives or projects relating to law firm strategy, management or operations. This could include new business, resourcing or delivery models, firm-wide digital or transformation programmes, new ways of working with clients, or new ways of working with clients, or other firm-wide business innovations. (One submission per firm) 

The practice of law: submissions are invited from a team of practitioners working in any legal practice area who can show how their practice of law has changed, with specific examples or case studies that demonstrate the changing practice of law. 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. (Two submissions per firm) 

Individual practitioners and business leaders: submissions are invited for individual legal practitioners and business professionals who are leading innovation within their firm and/or practice group. The submissions should show how the individual has shown courage to change the way legal or business work is done, how they have influenced their firms, industry, business or wider society, and how they are changing the way the firm works with its clients. Please note that individuals who have previously been profiled as “Innovative Individuals” in an FT Innovative Lawyers report are not eligible for this category. (One individual per firm) 

Individual leaders: submissions are invited for individuals who are leading firms — this could include but is not limited to managing partners, chairs, chief executives and senior partners. They must show a record of innovation and impact within their organisations, whether through improving growth and financial performance, diversity and inclusion, or driving digital transformation. Please note that individuals who have previously been profiled in the Leadership category in an FT Innovative Lawyers report are not eligible for this category. (One individual per firm) 

People and skills: submissions are invited from law firms that describe ways in which working culture and practices have changed beyond the immediate response to the pandemic. Submissions are invited from law firms that are rethinking workplaces, how they work, or the way they recruit, train, engage and develop their staff. (One submission per firm)

Social justice, inclusion and diversity: submissions are invited that detail innovative ways in which firms are addressing challenges of social injustice or social inequality, including inclusion and diversity initiatives. (One submission per firm)

Corporate law department categories 

In-house teams are invited to make one submission to each of the following four categories. Please also include contact details for the general counsel and a commercial reference who can be made available for interview. 

Strategic and risk advisers: this includes where the general counsel and legal function have partnered with the business to give commercial and strategic advice that has significantly enhanced the organisation, including accelerating growth, increasing trust and transparency, or pre-empting problems and securing the business from threats. (One submission per company) 

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

People and skills: ways in which working culture and practices have changed beyond the immediate response to the pandemic, including rethinking workplaces, how people work, or the way the business recruits, trains, engages and progresses its 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. (One submission per company) 

ESG, social justice, and inclusion and diversity: submissions are invited that detail innovative ways in which legal teams are helping their businesses and industries meet environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals. Submissions are also invited on initiatives to address challenges of social injustice or social inequality, or inclusion and diversity. (One submission per company) 

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 September 8, 2021. The research process will run from September to November. The report will be published with the Financial Times newspaper on Friday December 10, 2021 and a virtual awards ceremony will be held on Thursday, 9 December, 2021.

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 partner iManage. 

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 2021 submissions website, even if you have submitted to past reports. To register an account, follow the link to the submissions form, or email to request login details.

Submission format

All private practice law firm 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.

The challenge: What commercial problem or business issue is being solved? (75 word limit)

Description of the innovation: A brief description of the individual, team or initiative. (75 word limit)

Originality: Why is the individual, team or initiative innovative? Which elements are most original? (200 word limit)

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)

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)

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 2021 ranking will assess innovations instituted from January 1, 2020 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, which 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 schedule

September 8 — deadline for submissions 

November — awards shortlists revealed 

December 9 — online awards event 

December 10 — report publication on and with the Financial Times newspaper 

Contact details

For research/submission questions please contact RSG Consulting at

For editorial inquiries please contact Harriet Arnold at the FT at (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, or +44 (0) 20 7873 4418; or Alex Roszkowski, account manager, legal, at the FT,, +44 (0) 7481 606760. 

For inquiries about the awards event, please contact 


There is no fee for entering submissions to FT North America innovative Lawyers 2021. 

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 2021 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 2021.

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.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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