Vieira de Almeida (VdA): Legal Innovation Pioneers in Portugal

The Case Development Initiative (CDI) at Harvard Law School debuted a new case study on the HLS Case Studies website. CDI is a program that develops role plays and case studies based on strategic and organizational issues that those in the law and other professional settings encounter. These cases focus on real life situations and are suitable for law school classrooms as well as professional development programs. The following blogpost is from one of the authors of the case study.

NEW PRODUCT: Vieira de Almeida (VdA): Legal Innovation Pioneers in Portugal

By Nathan Cisneros, Case Writer for the Case Development Initiative at Harvard Law School

We are pleased to announce a new innovation-focused addition to the Case Development Initiative: Vieira de Almeida (VdA): Legal Innovation Pioneers in Portugal. CDI team members Lisa Rohrer, Nathan Cisneros, and Karina Shaw teamed up with Reena SenGupta, founder of RSG Consulting and a pioneer in the analysis of law firm innovation. The case study examines how Lisbon-based VdA embedded a durable culture of innovation in response to a number of internal and external challenges in the late 2000s. With this new case study readers and instructors have the opportunity to explore the nut-and-bolts of an innovation culture in a law firm setting.

We were fortunate to have Reena as our guide. For the past ten years she has partnered with the Financial Times to produce an annual Innovative Lawyers special report. Reena and the Financial Times receive hundreds of submissions each year, so it takes something truly extraordinary to catch Reena’s eye. That’s exactly what happened in 2013 when VdA emerged–seemingly from nowhere–to claim that year’s award for “Most Innovative Law Firm in Continental Europe.” How had this little Portuguese law firm managed to overcome the deep economic troubles of its home market and put innovation at the heart of its business and values? There was only one way to find out, so we headed down to Lisbon with Reena to meet Vieira de Almeida.

We learned that Europe’s sovereign debt crisis was just one of several acute challenges facing VdA in the second half of the 2000s. The firm also grappled with generational changeover and a rapidly maturing market. Rather than fall into a defensive crouch, firm leaders seized the moment as an opportunity for re-invention. They launched an ambitious multi-year strategic review with buy-in from all levels of the firm which came to be known as the Lighthouse Project. We came to understand that VdA’s approach to the Lighthouse Project was emblematic of the firm’s values: a strong emphasis on teamwork, a willingness to try risky endeavors, and a commitment to carry ideas through to completion. The case study shows that the process by which firms develop their strategic vision is just as important to its overall success as the vision itself.

VdA’s innovation campaign emerged from the Lighthouse Project, and firm members pursued it with the same methodical zeal. VdA created a committee to evaluate, incubate, develop, and fund new ideas from all over the firm. It reorganized its HR department and empowered HR professionals to experiment with novel promotion and assessment systems. It did the same with business development, giving staff substantial leeway to pursue new clients and experiment with internal work organization. We think students and practitioners will greatly value reading in concrete detail how VdA actually implemented its innovation drive on the ground.

The case study was first presented in the Leadership in Law Firms course here at HLS. We were delighted to welcome Reena as our guest, and she discussed VdA’s achievements in the context of innovation trends in the legal profession. We invite instructors and practitioners to share their own experiences now that the VdA case is available to the public.

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