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Lucy Bassli ’00
As a top in-house counsel at Microsoft, Lucy Bassli established a reputation for legal innovation. Now, she wants to help law firms across the country modernize their practice.
In 2002, two years after graduating from the University of Houston Law Center, Lucy Bassli took a job as a commercial contract attorney at a well-respected Seattle law firm. Quickly overwhelmed by the volume of work, she created a Microsoft Word document, using
the Word’s Table function to track each contract from origination to completion. She then shared the document periodically with her clients to keep them up to date with her progress.
Unaccustomed to such transparency from their lawyers, her clients told her they appreciated being kept in the loop. To Bassli, who describes herself as “genetically inclined to be efficient,” the Word document just seemed like a logical way to organize her workflow. But in the occasionally hidebound world of elite law firms, it marked a significant innovation. In part, that’s because most firms still
bill clients by the hour, a practice that doesn’t exactly encourage efficiency.
“As a law firm associate, the less time you spend on a client, the less money you make,” Bassli said. “I’m not a math whiz, but that’s a problem.”
In 2004, Bassli got an offer to join the in-house legal team at Microsoft, where she continued to innovate. She standardized
the company’s legal processes, used cloud-based documents to organize her team, and applied principles derived from Six Sigma organizational strategy. To increase efficiency and lower costs, she
began outsourcing much of the company’s lower-level contract review work to a third party legal service provider (formerly called Legal Process Outsourcers) to its offices in Fargo, North Dakota and then Bristol, England and Mumbai, India.
Over the course of 13 years, she rose to become Microsoft’s Assistant General Counsel of Legal Operations and Contracting, overseeing
a team of more than 20 lawyers and winning an industry-wide reputation for creative legal solutions. Bassli left Microsoft in 2018 to start her own business, InnoLaw Group, which offers workshops and training sessions to law firms on how to modernize their practice, and consults with corporate law departments on optimizing how they handle commercial transactions.
Over the past two years, Bassli has given talks around the world, created an online course, and published her first book, “The Simple Guide to Legal Innovation,” with another book scheduled to come out next year. Building on the traditional legal education she received at the Law Center, she has become a passionate evangelist for innovation, arguing that firms must embrace change or risk obsolescence.
“Over time, they’re not going to survive without changing,” she said. “The competition, especially from the alternative service providers like the big four accounting firms, is heating up. Outside the U.S., where regulations are different, alternative legal service providers are already in the law firm space competing for business.”
The push for innovation is also coming from clients increasingly emboldened to request more flexibility in how they are billed, and more creativity in how firms are carrying out the work.
“There’s a mismatch between what clients need and what law firms are capable of delivering,” Bassli said. “There’s also a mismatch of communication — clients aren’t always able to articulate what they need, and law firms aren’t able to extract that message from the conversation. There’s a lot being lost in translation.”
Firms are aware of the problem. Many of them have created positions like chief innovation officer or chief client service officer. These are great beginnings, but innovation can’t just be a buzzword; it has to be embraced by the entire firm.
Partners must create an atmosphere conducive to innovation, and associates must feel empowered to try out new things without worrying about jeopardizing their career.
“It has to become part of the firm’s DNA,” Bassli said. “It has to be rewarded by the leadership. And lawyers have to be educated. There’s a big education gap right now.”
Although Bassli is working to develop continuing education courses on legal innovation, she said that the traditional CLE format may not be sufficient to the task. Instead, attorneys should be given the opportunity to experiment with new ways of delivering their service.
Innovation doesn’t require immediately jumping on the hottest new technology trend. It involves being open to new ways of approaching old problems — even if that simply means creating a Word document to track contracts, as Bassli did at her old firm 17 years ago.
“It’s not about doing something different for the purpose of doing something different,” she said. “For me, it’s about asking the question: Why are we doing this in a certain way? Can we do it better?”
Briefcase 2020

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