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Reed Smith Lures Top Innovation Exec Cunningham from Winston

July 1, 2021, 10:00 AM

Reed Smith has hired David Cunningham as its first chief innovation officer, plucking the long-term “CINO” from Winston & Strawn and tasking him with an effort to “transform” the mega-firm’s operations.

Cunningham is well-known in the close-knit Big Law innovation circle, having worked at Winston & Strawn for nearly a decade and spending more than 20 years working with law firm clients at what is now HBR Consulting. He will remain CEO of Legal Metrics, which tracks and shares data on diversity and performance between law firms and corporate legal departments.

He steps into a law firm pursuing a multi-pronged innovation strategy that includes legal technology subsidiary Gravity Stack, captive alternative services offering Reed Smith Global Solutions, and a partnership with a no-code service automation platform BRYTER.

Cunningham’s challenge will be to pull those pieces together into a more unified strategy, he said in an interview. His first 90 days will be spent developing that strategy.

“We want to create a global customer platform that is differentiated in the market so that customers have such a different experience working with Reed Smith that they see it as more valuable than working with just any other firm,” Cunningham said. “And it makes lawyers never want to leave Reed Smith because they don’t feel they can get the support and insights to do their job at any other firm.”

Law firms have a mixed track record pursuing innovation strategies, but the CINO position has nevertheless proliferated among Big Law firms.

The definition of law firm “innovation” varies, but it is often an effort to use technology, lower-cost staff, and repetitive processes to reduce the cost of legal services. Law firms pursuing that strategy have competitors including the Big Four, corporate legal departments themselves, and alternative legal service providers such as Elevate Services or UnitedLex.

They are competing for a market valued at $14 billion in 2019, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of alternative legal services providers released earlier this year.

“We must continue to create new service offerings and products that deliver more agile and customized client support — all with the purpose of helping our clients drive their businesses forward,” Sandy Thomas, Reed Smith’s global managing partner, said in a statement. “David brings the ultimate entrepreneurial approach to the delivery of legal services.”

At Winston, Cunningham helped develop a data repository that tracked time management, billing information, human resources, and marketing data that was used to help identify potential new clients and projects, Bloomberg Law reported this week. Cunningham also said he is hiring a leadership team to help run the Legal Metrics business, which he founded.

Cunningham said he is “very optimistic” that law firms, and Reed Smith in particular, can be successful in the competition to develop new, more efficient legal services. In the job interview process, he said he made sure the firm was committed to doing the work innovation requires.

“That was my challenge back to them: Are you really ready to look at how the business works from the client’s perspective?” Cunningham said. “And every conversation with their senior management team convinced me that they didn’t see this as some fringe press release exercise.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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