People, Processes, Technology: Fostering a Culture of Innovation
In this edition of V&E+, Chief Innovation Officer Aubrey Bishai on her approach to work, the invaluable role of people, and thinking about Generative AI — Every. Single. Day.
Innovation is a top priority across the business world. Yet businesses seldom approach it in exactly the same way. How does Vinson & Elkins see it?
To understand how we think about innovation, it helps to think first about how our firm has made its name: producing excellent work and delivering exceptional service. These are commitments we make to our clients every day, and continual innovation plays a vital role in our ability to fulfill them.
The idea is essentially this: To serve our clients in a world where law and business are always growing more complex, we must always be growing more creative and efficient. More collaborative and resourceful. More knowledgeable, skillful, and forward-thinking. When we think about innovation, it’s with goals like those in mind.
I’d imagine that technology features heavily in this work.
It’s definitely a big part, though “part” is the operative word. There’s a tendency these days to equate innovation with technology — to think of adopting the latest tech as the only viable means of innovating. Now, don’t get me wrong: Tech is extraordinarily important. But we view innovation through a broader lens.
Tell me about that.
Think about it this way. When you’re trying to build, fix, or improve something, can it be tempting to reach for a shiny new tool? Yes. But do you always do it? No — because sometimes, it makes more sense to become better at using the tools you already have.
It’s the same idea with innovation. When we identify an area for improvement, we don’t seek new tech as a reflex. We study its costs and benefits, and weigh it against other options.
Of course, we often arrive at a tech-centered solution. But in some cases, our analyses tell us that we’d be wiser to turn our focus elsewhere — like on improving our business processes, for example.
Business process improvement — not exactly the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard.
Well, that’s kind of the point. Processes run behind the scenes, but they power the outcomes that drive an organization’s success. Our experience is that the more we work to refine our processes, the more efficient they become. And the more efficient our processes become, the better we’re able to compete for business, attract and retain top talent, and position our clients to achieve their goals.
It all must involve quite a bit of teamwork.
It does — and well beyond the people on my team. The people deeply involved in a business process are fountains of knowledge about it. So, when we’re trying to understand what a process is all about — the goals, the stakeholders, the success metrics, the pain points — we’re listening closely to our colleagues, learning everything we can.
And that collaboration continues through every phase of the work. Analyzing the current process, designing and implementing changes to it, gathering and reviewing feedback, making final tweaks — all of it.
Would it be fair to say that people are at the center of the firm’s innovation strategy?
Absolutely. To innovate is to rethink long-established ways of doing things — whether that’s for a small practice group, at the department level, or firmwide. My team has spent countless hours managing big-change projects over the years, and one thing we’ve learned is that — no matter how well we plan or execute — success depends largely on how the people affected by a change feel about it.
Change at work can be scary, especially when it affects your day-to-day responsibilities.
Or when you don’t feel ready for it. That’s why I’m a big believer in the value of change management. It’s why we focus so much energy on things like understanding people’s needs, communicating about progress, minimizing disruption, providing technical support, and offering opportunities to upskill. In our view, preparing people for change is no less important than the change itself.
Can we talk about Generative AI?
It’s certainly the topic du jour. I think about it — literally — every single day.
Yes, it’s all so complex, moving so quickly, always making headlines — the past year has been a whirlwind. How is the firm is engaging in this space?
Deeply, to say the least. You might remember that, shortly after GPT-4 hit the scene, it was passing sections of the LSAT and the Bar — and not by small margins. The model’s impressive scores had a lot of people asking, “Can Generative AI practice law?”
I do remember. And the world found out pretty quickly that the answer is “no.”
Right. But we’ve since learned that, handled with care, Generative AI can be a useful tool for our attorneys. And with that in mind, we formed a taskforce to explore and test Generative AI products designed to support the practice of law, with the goal of strengthening our practices and delivering even greater value to our clients.
How’s that work going?
It has been instructive, for sure. In the trials we’ve conducted, we’ve found that these products can add value in so many ways — research, document summary, drafting, and analysis, for example. Research is one area where we’ve trained our focus, and we’re already taking advantage of Generative AI–augmented research to streamline our workflow.
But as I’m sure you know, Generative AI products are very much in their infancy, and far from perfect. So, supervising their use is critical, as is having our attorneys thoroughly review all — and I mean all — output before incorporating anything into actual work product. We take this validation work very seriously.
What about information-security concerns?
An important question. Protecting our clients’ confidential and proprietary information is a commitment we take as seriously as any. Under the firm’s comprehensive information-security policy, any legal technology must meet strict standards — and pass a rigorous vetting process — before we procure it.
And this policy applies to licensing Generative AI products?
Correct. But our commitment to information security reaches well beyond procurement. As it relates to using Generative AI, we require attorneys to adhere to relevant policies and guidelines, and we provide education and training to ensure that anyone using Generative AI knows how to do so safely and effectively.
Clients would expect nothing less.
As they should. Remember though, companies hold wide-ranging views about Generative AI, and some prefer that their service providers not use it — or use it only in certain ways. So ultimately, we follow clients’ instructions before we even consider using a Generative AI tool in our work for them.
Your role at the firm … I’m beginning to see just how widely it ranges. In your earlier career, did you ever think that you’d be doing work of this type?
You know, I never envisioned a role that centered on innovation, but I do think that what I’m doing today suits me as much as anything I’ve done over my career. I’ve long been enthusiastic about people, processes, and technology — specifically, how best to combine them to provide standout client service. And in leading innovation at V&E, I can focus on exactly that.
I love being here because I get to work with super smart people, on projects that make a meaningful, positive impact for both the firm and our clients. There’s always a new puzzle to solve, idea to explore, or opportunity to seize.
I get the sense that people around the firm are invested in what you and your team are doing.
That’s no coincidence. There really is a culture of innovation around here. A community of people who take initiative, who experiment, who embrace new ways of thinking. People who look for the lesson in a setback, and who make the most of every challenge.
My team sees it as part of our remit to encourage that culture — to help develop it. To know that we share a common cause with our colleagues … it makes my team’s work more rewarding. It pays dividends for the firm as a whole, and I expect that it will continue to do so long into the future.
Office: New York
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Education: Messiah University — International Business, Spanish; Whitworth University, EDHEC Business School — Master of International Management; Master of Science in Marketing
Some favorite activities outside work: When I’m not managing complex projects for V&E, I’m cultivating the dreams and schemes of my three vivacious daughters and film director husband, and serving on the board of my co-op, as class parent, and in the community. We love to travel, but when we’re not out of town on a family adventure, we’re exploring our beloved NYC and soaking in all the art, culture, architecture, and food our city has to offer.
A dream adventure: A train trip on the Orient Express!
This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.