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The world of the law practice is undergoing some painful changes. But going forward there’s one critical thing to be mindful of: that the changes to the legal profession are structural, not cyclical.

That means that the changes are – like it or not – permanent.

The coming years will remain challenging and, in order to grow and succeed,  firms will need to adapt new thinking, new processes and an altogether more responsive practice. As David Lat of Above the Law said, this is “the New Normal.”

Already we have seen a number of forward thinking law firms rethink and reimagine the way that legal services should be delivered. It is these firms who are adapting to the changes and thriving in the new environment. And so it’s these firms who are redefining the parameters and model upon which legal services should be delivered in the future.

Two weeks ago we looked at the 25 most innovative law firms in the US as named by the FT. Last week we reviewed the core traits needed to be an innovative lawyer. We saw some enlightened tools and processes including alternative billing arrangements from Holland & Knight and a drive for commercial awareness from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

Interestingly we also learnt from the FT US Innovative Lawyers 2012 that US firms lag behind UK firms in terms of process innovation. By process innovation we mean the ability to create and implement new tools that allow firms to streamline their internal processes.

But who are the leading and most innovative law firms in the UK?

Well the FT also published an index of Europe’s most innovative law firms. This index has allowed us to understand who the leading law firms in the UK are. The following is a list of the 25 most innovative law firms in Europe according to the FT Innovative Lawyers 2012.

  1.  Allen & Overy
  2. Eversheds
  3. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  4. Baker & McKenzie
  5. Linklaters
  6. Axiom
  7. Ashurst
  8. CMS
  9. Garrigues (Spanish)
  10. DLA Piper
  11. Addleshaw Goddard
  12. Taylor Wessing
  13. Slaughter and May
  14. Uría Menéndez (Spain)
  15. Simmons & Simmons
  16. Hogan Lovells
  17. Bird & Bird
  18. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  19. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
  20. Ţuca Zbârcea & Asociaţii (Romanian)
  21. Latham & Watkins
  22. Berwin Leighton Paisner
  23. Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira (Portugal)
  24. Portolano Cavallo (Italian)
  25. Mishcon de Reya

Perhaps the most interesting development in this year’s index is high placing of the legal outsourcing firm Axiom. An emerging feature of the ‘New Normal’ of law practice that is keeping Big Law’s partners up at night.

The FT report noted that their innovative processes have made the new entrant a radically disruptive market innovator. They’re obviously doing something right, having won over high value work from Vodafone.

Taylor Wessing was praised for its brand review and strategy which made it one of the few firms to enjoy double digit growth in 2011.

Allen & Overy and Eversheds were applauded for their responding to the market changes prompted by the new and more nimble outsourcing firms like Axiom.

Allen & Overy were also marked generously for their adoption of a less elitist culture and an outsider mentality which is conducive to innovation.  Interestingly this was one of the key suggestions made in the recent Citi-Hildebrandt report which charted a path to growth for law firms.

We’ve also been preaching the message of innovation: of the need for law firms to adapt to the new environment and to adopt news processes and strategies. In particular we have been a strong advocate of the need for law firms to go digital and to craft a strong online identity through social media and a website.

Some struggle with this. Others are doing exceptionally well. To make things clearer we celebrate those who do Twitter well through our flagship Tweeter of the Week award.

We’ve also been sounding the need for law firms to maintain a consistent look and feel across all their social media channels.

For this the standouts have been the likes of Mishcon de Reya, Riverview Law, GT Law Solicitors and Browne Jacobson. These are firms who are adapting innovative and forward thinking digital processes and setting the standard for others to follow.

But ultimately it’s those named in the FT index that’ve set the bar the highest.

The 25 law firms above as named in the FT report represent and are defining the future of legal practice. The framework of the new model of law practice is still in flux. “A period of revolutionary change that will last for the next decade or so,” said the managing partner of Linklaters, Simon Davies.

So are you going to get involved and shape the New Normal?