Corporate Legal Departments/Legal Ops

Episode 21 – Dave Rogers On Hype Technology and its Impact on Innovation

In Episode 21 we had the good fortune of talking to Dave Rogers, Chief Technology Officer for the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. (For us Yankees, it is kind of like our DOJ).

Dave got his start in media, but moved to the public sector when the Government Digital Service hired him as a technical architect. He worked his way up the ranks and is now the CTO for the Ministry of Justice.

In his various positions in both the private and the public sector, Dave has come to learn that hype around innovation is probably just that–hype. We talk to him about how falling in love with “hype technology” (the hot new tech of the moment) may actually hinder an organization’s efforts to innovate.

Dave also points out that the opposite of hot new technology, legacy technology, is problematic for organizations large and small. He refers to this as the “toxicity of legacy”. Toxicity caused by older software and systems that are poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, non-compliant or inefficient.

You can find Dave on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Crawford Appleby of Rulings.law

Crawford Appleby is the legal tech founder we talk to in Episode 21. Crawford is still a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles and it is within his practice that he came up with the idea to launch rulings.law. A searchable database of tentative rulings issued by Los Angeles Superior Court judges. 
 
If you want to reach out to Crawford you can find him at contact@rulings.law.
 

 

Things we talk about in this episode:

Dave’s Medium articles on Hype Technology and Toxicity of Legacy

Qcon 

Waterfall Project Management

 
 

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

 

Started In Media and Entertainment Industry

In today’s episode, we talk to Dave Rogers. He is  the Chief Technology Officer and interim Head of Digital at the Ministry of Justice in the U.K. For our Legal Founders segment, we talk to Crawford Appleby about his app “rulings.law.”

In this episode, we are very honored to have Dave Rogers as our guest. Dave is the Chief Technology Officer and the Head of Digital at the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. For us yankees, the Ministry of Justice is kind of like our DOJ. I reached out to Dave about being a guest on the podcast after reading an article on Medium. The article he wrote is entitled, “Hype Technology is Killing Innovation.” The gist of the article is that innovation is very difficult, and sometimes easy to fall prey to the innovation façade. That is, adopting the technology flavor of the month to create the appearance that something is actually being done to innovate. Come to find out, Dave has a lot of good articles on Medium, and I encourage you to check them out. We’ll post a link to some of them on the episode page at tlpodcast.com.

Before Dave moved over to the public sector, his background was in media where he worked in both print and television, or as they would say on the other side of the Atlantic, “the telly.”

Dave: I came to London to join The Guardian newspaper. That was my first kind of proper job, I guess, and I was a software developer there. I was learning a lot about how to do agile software development. I was doing a bit of programming. It was a really exciting environment. I was only at The Guardian briefly, but I learned a lot during that period.

Then went of the BBC, and did several different types of software development role, and moving into kind of technical architecture and technical leadership. That was running through lots of different productions at the BBC. So I was involved with a lot of radio and music stuff at the beginning; that moved into things related to T.V. programs. The most exciting point at the BBC was towards the end, so I did loads of work around the 2012 Olympics. So we built lots of data platforms, lots of  APIs and data processing pipelines, and we were just trying to get all that data that was flowing through from the live event, getting that out to the website and the T.V. data visuals. And then, towards the end, worked on a really interesting project around modeling data for T.V. programs. So that was using a lot of weird and wonderful knowledge representation technology, semantic web technology.

And then, it was around about 2013, I saw a talk at QCon, the conference was running in London. It was by Matt Wall, who at that point was working for Government Digital Service, and he was kind of selling this idea that really hadn’t occurred to me before, which is: you can work for government, but actually do that in a way that you were using a lot of very modern software practices. I think he was explaining that that was a very hard thing to do; there was a lot of complexity that you had to clear out of the way first. But that was first point at which it clicked to me that you could do some really valuable public sector work, without having to kind of go back on a lot of those principle that I’d learned in what were then more progressive technology organizations.

 

Moved to Government

Chad: Did you have an interest in government before you saw this talk and it clicked with you?

Dave: I’ve always kind of tried to choose jobs where there’s a mission I believe in, and I don’t think I’d honestly thought about working for government until that talk. I probably had started to hear some of the buzz around Government Digital Service, which peaked my interest.

Chad: And for the non-U.K. listeners, what is the GDS?

Dave: The Government Digital Service, that was founded around 2011-2012 I think, it was a kind of foundation of an entirely new organization that had never existed in government before to lead on technology. And then this kind of newish word, “digital,” obviously the word “digital” had been around for a long time, but it had a kind of new meaning, and it was about bringing internet era thinking into the government sector. It’s things like agile software development, things like user set to design. Some of these things were largely new to the public sector, and it was an organization founded on some very strong principles that started to bring those ideas into government.

Chad: And that piqued your interest with your tech background, I take it.

Dave: Really piqued my interest, yeah. Because I remember in the early days of my career working on projects, and seeing all these problem emerge, and not really realizing that it was because of this thing called Waterfall that I’d never really heard of, this kind of up-from-planning way of creating technology.

Chad: Project management. Waterfall Project Management, right?

Dave: Yeah, yeah. Waterfall Project Management never really grappled with the uncertainty of technology. It’s a very complicated, unpredictable medium to work with, particularly like digital technology. And yeah, those principles really struck a chord with me when I first came across them principally at The Guardian. And then to see those kind of brought into government was a real eye opener for me. It’s like, “Oh, brilliant. I feel like I can contribute in that space.”

Chad: So in 2013, Dave made the jump from the private to the public sector when he was hired by the U.K. Government Digital Service office as a Technical Architect. As Dave explains, the agency is charged with helping to facilitate and implement the use of technology by government agencies to create a better user experience for its citizens. Dave worked his way up the ladder, and is now the CTO and acting Head of Digital for the Ministry of Justice.

Dave: I’m Chief Technology Officer, which is what you might say is my main job, and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. And that’s leading the technical strategy across the department. I’m also wearing the Head of Digital hat right now, which, I’m covering for the very awesome Helen Mott, who’s currently on maternity leave. And that’s kind of pushing my role into areas like the delivery of a range of services for different users, whether that’s staff or public users.

We’re also really getting under the skin of what our digital strategy is. So, what are our priorities going to be around how we transform what is still very much a paper-based industry, the industry of justice? And there’s a huge number of paths through bringing technology into justice, and that’s kind of what the digital strategy is about: understanding where those priorities are, what opportunities we should be seizing. So it goes beyond technology into, really, the transformation of the organization and the wider justice system.

Chad: For people that might be listening outside of the U.K., at a real high level, what’s the jurisdiction for the Ministry of Justice, or how does it compare to, in the United States, the Department of Justice?

Dave: So the Ministry of Justice is kind of a family of organizations oriented around a kind of corporate center. So that family includes prisons and probation, it includes the legal aid agency, which is about giving legal aid for various eligible parties, it’s the office of the public guardian that deals with things like the lasting power of attorney, where you dealing with its use of lost mental capacity, and the criminal injuries and compensation authority, which is an agency that provides funds to victims of crime. And then, finally, and there’s slightly more independence in this space, there’s the Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, and then onwards to the judiciary, who are obviously a kind of fully independent entity that we work very, very closely with. And that covers all of our court processes, both things like family court, but also criminal courts and tribunals of various persons. So it’s quite a broad room.

Chad: And your responsibility is to head up digital for all those different areas of the MoJ, right?

Dave: To head up the digital strategy, yes. It’s gets a bit more complex in terms of delivery, so we’ve kind of got three centers of digital delivery at the moment, or actually arguably four. So there’s three that are part of the center, and that is our, we’ve got an awesome team in Sheffield who are doing mainly prisons and probations-focused work, we’ve got a couple of teams that are largely London based, but also working in Birmingham, and they’re focused around legal aid agency of the guardian, and then our kind of core central digital that does a kind of range of activities that relate to kind of cross-justice or kind of staff-facing services. And also, we have another great team up in Glasgow, Carole Oatway’s team, but that’s the criminal injuries and compensation authority.

Tech used by the Ministry of Justice

Chad: It goes without saying, as Chief Technology Officer for the MoJ, Dave is involved in the development of tech used by the organization, tech used by both the general public and by government employees. The MoJ has several apps, including one that can be used to schedule prison visits, and another one that’s used internally to locate other government employees.

Dave: So in terms of public-basing tech, we’ve got… Some of our earliest services we’ve delivered are things like the prison-visit booking, so allowing somebody to arrange to go and visit someone in prison. Similarly, there’s a kind of service to be able to transfer money to people in prisons so that they can buy the basics for themselves in prisons. We’ve got services that relate to very specific processes like applications for lasting power of attorney. We’ve got our partners over in HMCTS are delivering things like the emerging, kind of online divorce services. And then you’ve got a kind of huge range of informational services.

So we produce every kind of, very carefully designed content to help people navigate through some of the hardest points in their lives, whether that’s separating families, or people who are trying to seek access to legal aid. In effect, the ambition there is for any process that somebody needs to go through a court, which will sometimes involve legal aid, and for criminal courts may end up with people in prison or probation, we want any public interaction to be available online, and be as simple and accessible as possible for people. That’s the ambition. And I guess on those things I described, are kind of, those on the foothills of delivering that.

Chad: What’s an example of some internal-facing tech that the team is working on, that helps people working there at the Ministry get their daily jobs done?

Dave: One of the products we build is a very simple product. It’s called “People Finder.” It’s a service that allows you to look up anyone that works in the organization and access the basic details about them. So, I.D., a photograph, it might tell you what building they’re located in and what days of the week they typically work. And we found that an enormously valuable service for people to be able to find each other in a huge organization like the Ministry of Justice. We’ve got about, eighty thousand people work here, I think.

And I think one of the reasons we went for a service like that is, underneath the surface of this very complex multi-agency organization is quite a lot of different technology, and it’s often very hard to join that all together with single-enterprise solutions, and so on. So we felt that the idea of finding people was something where we could make a real difference in the organization.

And then, we’ve got from very specialist technologies that help with very particular government processes. So, for example, we built some technology around responding to Freedom of Information requests, or dealing with Parliamentary question, which are kind of part of the… One of the formal processes that exists in the kind of British democratic process.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Crawford Appleby of Rulings.law

Chad: It’s time to step away from our talk with Dave Rogers for a few minutes, because now it’s time for our Legal Tech Founders segment. Today we talk to Crawford Appleby of rulings.law. But before we get to Crawford, I wanted to take minute and let you know that for each episode at tlpodcast.com, we have a dedicated page. Episode pages contain contact info for our guests, transcripts of the episodes, and links to all the stuff we talk about. So if you hear something in today’s episode that peaks your interest and you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit tlpodcast.com.

Also, if you want to get in touch with me for any questions, comments, concerns, we’ll accept praise, too, or if you want to learn more about my company, Percipient, you can e-mail me at cmain@percipient.co. That’s cmain@percipient.co.

Okay. Without further ado, let’s get to our Legal Tech Founders segment. Today we talk to California attorney Crawford Appleby. Although he’s still a practicing attorney, he also launched a legal tech website called rulings.law. It’s a database of tentative rulings handed down by judges from the Los Angeles Superior Court. Although the site at this point is limited to decisions from Los Angeles judges, I like his story, and I hope it inspires others to create their own legal tech apps or products to solve problems they see in their own practices.

For those of you outside of California, the concept of a tentative ruling may be foreign. I only know about them because I started my practice as a lawyer as a litigator in Los Angeles. A tentative ruling is a decision handed down by a judge prior to oral argument on a motion. In the old days, they were printed out in hard copy and either left for counsel on the counsel table in the courtroom, or more often than not, outside the courtroom doors, posted on the wall.

Lawyers would rush to the courthouse before their motion hearing to see what the judge had ruled. If both attorneys agreed with the tentative ruling, often times there’s no argument. However, if either of the attorneys disagree, they have the right to go before the judge and argue their motion, and try to change the judge’s mind, and change his or her decision as laid out in the tentative ruling.

In the early 2000s, tentative rulings were posted online the day before a motion, so the attorneys could let the court know whether or not they wanted to argue the motion. But the decisions were only kept up a day or two around the time of the motion, and were later deleted. This is where Crawford’s app comes in.

Crawford’s app collects all these opinions, and creates a searchable database of tentative rulings so lawyers can go and search them, and figure out how the judge may or may not rule on any particular motion.

Crawford, thanks for being here today. I really appreciate it. Thanks for being a listener to the podcast. So tell us a little bit about your app and website, rulings.law.

Crawford: Thanks, Chad. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m very excited about this, mostly the fact that I was able to make it happen. It’s not easy when you work full time as an attorney, and that I’m also a new father, too, so I’ve got a seven month old at home. So I’ve definitely got about three jobs going right now.

But yeah. The way I that I came up with it, basically, was, I work in civil litigation in Los Angeles. Plenty of our cases are in Los Angeles Superior Court, and in that court, which I think is kind of unique to the courts of California, the judges will issue what’s called a tentative ruling before the hearing on a motion. Basically, and you’re familiar with this from when you practiced in LA, but for people who aren’t, a tentative ruling is basically just the judge saying, “Here’s what I think I’m going to do at the hearing on you motion. Just to give the parties kind of a head’s up.” And then, when they go in to do oral argument, they can make the most of it.

So these rulings, they’re not binding precedent. They’re just specific to that case, to that motion, and while they matter a lot the attorneys and the parties in that case, they don’t really seem to matter that much to everyone else. And I think that those ruling are really valuable information, and I was sort of learning through my practice that they can be really valuable, if you go back and you read them and you review them when you’re preparing a motion for a particular judge, you can get some insight. You can see what the judge… What kind of cases they like on that issue, how they tend to rule on the particular motion that you might be doing.

So I started trying to sort of collect them manually, and that ended up being a lot of work. There’s over fifty judges that give out these rulings and put them online every day.

Chad: You said you collected them manually. Did you actually go to the website and try to grab them by judge? Is that what you were doing?

Crawford: I did. I did. And for one judge in particular, I managed to do that for a whole year, so I had like a thousand pages of rulings because we had case in front of that judge that was important, and I wanted to have that as a database. And so, as time went on, I started to realize that this wasn’t really sustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do this for all the judges that post. And so I decided to do something about it, and I looked around and I saw that there were some other databases that had sites that were collecting them, but they were either sort of out of the budget, or they didn’t have rulings for all of the judges that I was interested in. And so I thought, “Well, maybe I can make this happen. Maybe I can do something that would be available to everyone.”

Chad: Do you have a tech background? I mean, what were the steps you took to get this done?

Crawford: Yeah. So, I do not have a tech background. The most experience I’ve got with tech is when I was in, like, middle school, I managed to cobble together a website a long time ago on Angelfire. That’ll probably bring some people back. So I understood sort of the basics of how coding works. I was really interested in it, because I feel like there’s a lot of parallels within terms of doing legal analysis, a lot of “if this, then that” sort of step-by-step procedure that you follow.

So I kind of had a basic understanding of how things could work, but I needed more help. So I reached out to a buddy of mine from law school. His name is Bill Bitner. And after he graduated, he went and learned how to code. And he said, “This sounds like a great idea. I’m going to help you get there.” So with his help, I was able to go and locate a programmer that I was able to hire sort of as an independent contractor. His name is Stephen Dodson, and he’s going to have a site up soon, bluegrass.media, for people who want to contact him. And Bill helped me vet a whole bunch of people who applied for the position, and helped me pick Stephen, and Stephen’s been really great, he’s been working really hard.

And so, I kind of had guidance from my friend Bill on that, and was able to sort of navigate this. And that’s kind of how I was able to hire a programmer and kind of get things going, so to speak.

Chad: And from start to finish, how long did it take you to get the site up and running?

Crawford: Yeah. So, from start to finish, let me see… I think I had sort of the light bulb for this in late October, and so I put together a scope of work. And then I was listening to a podcast with Sarah Schaaf, of the company Headnote, and she had recommended if you are looking to get into legal tech, and you have an idea, one of the best ways to do test-marketing is to just put up ads online, on social media, and see what kind of click-through rate you get. So I thought, “Well, that’s a great idea.”

So I basically got some Clipart, and I managed to put up a landing page through GoDaddy that I was able to do myself, and I ran test ads on Facebook and LinkedIn for a week, and I did pretty good. I got like, between like a one and three percent click-through rate, and I got some people in LA who signed up to hear about when the site would launch, and I thought, like, “That’s enough interest to give this a shot.”

So I began with that. And so once I had that, that I realized that there were other people who liked this idea, I went ahead and hired Stephen to do the work. And he started in November, and the site began collecting rulings officially at the end of January. And then we were able to launch it officially in late March.

Chad: And without giving away too many trade secrets or secret sauce-

Crawford: Yeah.

Chad: How does it work logistically?

Crawford: Well, the good news is, is that Stephen has done the heavy lifting on that and knows the technical stuff, so even if somebody were to torture me, I don’t think I could tell them what they wanted to know. But I do know, for example, the way the site works is that the tentative rulings get posted every day, and then they disappear. So once the hearing is over, they go away, and the court doesn’t maintain any kind of publicly accessible database. So what rulings.law does is it goes on the site, and it’s a web scraper, and it saves the rulings, and then it puts them in a database and organizes them so that they’re assigned to the judge and courthouse that posted them. And then the site is publicly accessible. It’s free for everybody. And so, anybody who wants to go on and read the judge’s old ruling is able to do that.

Aside from this being something that I wanted to have, an important goal of mine with this was to make it free, so that, in my mind, this is kind of an access to justice thing at the end of the day. We all, who live in California, we pay taxes, and those taxes cover the court when you need it. And I used to work at the court, actually. I was a law clerk there for a few years. And so, I took a lot of pride in my work there in thinking that I was sort of giving people their money’s worth when I did a good job.

And so part of this for me is, sort of, giving everybody this advantage, not everybody that has the financing to be able to pay for a database of these rulings. Now everybody can have them. And so that helps solo and small firms, and individuals. Kind of levels the playing field.

Chad: Well that’s cool. Before I let you go, I always kind of take this pole for attorneys in LA. What is your record in convincing a judge to change their ruling from whatever they ruled in the tentative?

Crawford: That is a good question.

Chad: If you had to guess. To be-

Crawford: If I had to guess?

Chad: To be frank, mine is not good. I find that nine times out of ten, what you see the tentative is what you’re going to get.

Crawford: Right. No, that’s true. And to go back for just one moment about tentatives, people probably wonder, “Well, what’s the point? It’s not the judge’s final ruling,” but as you pointed out, most of the time it is. I’d say almost all the time that it is. It’s-

Chad: Yeah.

Crawford: It’s real difficult to change their mind. You know, I’m trying specifically if I have an example of it. I don’t recall. I don’t know if there was ever-

Chad: That’s good.

Crawford: A time when I was able to change it. I will say, though, that we’ve won quite a bit of motions based on taking this approach and sort of doing that I call “judge-specific writing,” where you focus on the individual judge and what they care about, what case law they care about. That really helps to win motions, I think.

Chad: That’s a great point. It’s a tool I wish I would’ve had, because it gives you insight about that judge before you even bring the motion, to see if it’s even worth it.

Crawford: Exactly. Exactly. And people are doing exciting things with these tentative rulings, too. They’re creating analytics. Obviously there’s a lot of analytics out there now. And that can be a useful tool for gauging strategy, and how you want to proceed with your case.

Chad: Well, that’s cool. Again, Crawford, appreciate your time. People can find it at rulings.law, correct?

Crawford: That’s correct. That’s the site, and if they want to reach out to me or reach out to us about the site, then you can do that through the site itself. There’s a contact link. But also, my e-mail is contact@rulings.law.

 

Why Hype Technology is Killing Innovation

Chad: Okay, let’s get back to our talk with Dave Rogers, Chief Technology Officer for the Ministry of Justice in the U.K.

As I mentioned at the top of the podcast, I reach out to Dave after reading an article in Medium about the innovation façade. That article is entitled, “Why Hype Technology is Killing Innovation.” I love the article, and thankfully, Dave agreed to talk to me about it.

In the article, Dave points out that innovation’s very difficult and elusive because it requires a change in the status quo. He notes, too, that to stay competitive, organizations must look like they are staying on top of changes and growing. As a result, this sometimes causes those in charge of innovation to buy into the innovation façade. That is, appearing to innovate with really changing anything.

One way the innovation façade is perpetuated is through the adoption of hype technology. That is, making grand proclamations about the adoption of the technology flavor of the month so it looks like steps are being taken to innovate.

Dave: There’s a huge pressure to innovate in any forward-looking organization. It’s very typical pressure on organization that maybe appears to be struggling, or is kind of, you know, understands that its technology’s not very modern, and it’s kind of looking for that spark to say, “We want our organization to be progressive,” and typically that will involve using some of the most modern technology.

The problem that emerges is that if you try and take too direct a route to innovating, what you typically do is you look around at the technologies that appear to be signifiers of progress. So at the moment, that’s artificial intelligence, it’s blockchain, it’s drones, it’s the internet of things. And if you look at those technologies and try to very directly introduce them to your organization, I think there’s a sense to which people feel that, intuitively, that’s a way to innovate. They might say to a team, “You know, I’ve heard about this artificial intelligence thing. It sounds awesome. Let’s have a look around. Let’s see if we can find ways in which we can use this technology in our organization.”And I think that for people who don’t work in technology, they maybe haven’t had that experience working with the design and creation of technology.

That feels like it’s quite an effective way to solve the problem. The thing that actually happens below the façade is that we’re presented with an extremely challenging situation with regards to how you should design things. It’s essentially the solution is being presented, and the problem is being solved.

If there are two absolutely fundamental design principles, I think the first one would be try and understand the problem before you start working towards a solution, and to keep a very open mind about what that solution might be.

Chad: So the old cliché, a hammer looking for a nail.

Dave: Exactly, yeah. And then the other design principle I think would be to keep things as simple as possible. Why seek a complex solution if a very simple tool can actually solve your problem? And that kind of push to very directly bring a specific solution into an organization, it can have some really unfortunate side effects because it’s going against those very fundamental principles.

And I think one of the ones I felt very directly is that people who really believe in those principles can feel quite alienated when those principles can be undermined by something that appears quite innocent. The suggestion of introducing a particular new technology.

So the innovation façade is when activities emerge on that basis, but they’re not truly innovating. They’re not truly having the intended effect of making the organization be more modern and be more progressive in how it’s solving problems. And that’s because those design principles are there for a reason, and you’ll often end up with scenarios where perhaps you’re implementing the technology just for the sake of it, or you’re misapplying it in some way that has unfortunate side effects.

Chad: That kind of leads into a great quote you have in the article. You say, “The reputational uplift of appearing to be innovative far outweighs the reputational impact of technology failing to deliver.”

Dave: So, that quote is in the context of technology consultancies, particularly in government. But to be honest with you, in almost any organization, some point you’re going to be dealing with consultancies who are trying to help you work with technology effectively, solve complex business problems. Now, the really tricky thing here is that if a consultancy is able to use an extremely new technology, let’s say blockchain for argument’s sake, if they can simply get an organization to agree that they’re going to run a blockchain trial of some kind, the way that the media works is that’s kind of instantly headline news. That is, “Consultancy X is using blockchain to solve problem Y.” That’s an exciting headline. I think a majority of people would be like, “Oh, there’s so much potential in that technology.”

If, six months later, that intervention fails, the proposed solution doesn’t actually deliver the expected benefits, that will not be something that will be high profile. And the problem that this creates is that you’ve actually got a kind of system-level problem there, where that enormous buzz from simply trying to introduce a kind of hype technology into a particular space is often going to outweigh the much longer term complex thing of actually achieving a genuine outcome with much simpler technology. You’re not going to end up with an article in the press of, “Consultancy X solves incredibly complex problem using really basic technology.”

Chad: This reputational impact, or the press, it also goes beyond consultancy, right? Because you see this in law firms a lot. There will be a press release that the firm marketing department puts out about how they’re going to adopt some new technology or do something differently, and again, it seems that that’s partly for reputational purposes.

Dave: Yeah. No, I would agree, actually. I think you’re right. I think, in terms of any way of communicating that you are doing this type of innovation, is going to create a very useful buzz. There is actually a very positive side to that. If you can project a reputation that you’re using the most technology, as the industry may define it, that’s a huge hiring magnet for your organization. It’s a huge potential funding magnet for your organization. Even if the actual outcome isn’t necessarily positive in terms of the introduction of technology, it can still have these very positive side effects. Those side effects are not in terms of delivery and technology themselves.

Chad: That’s an interesting point. I didn’t really think about that. So then it comes to the last question of this topic. How do you battle against, or how do you prevent the innovation façade?

Dave: I think there’s kind of several, several approaches to that, and it’s a hard problem to solve. The most important thing for me is to really value skilled professions in your organization, and I think this principle will extend well beyond technology specialists, as well. If you bring specialists into your organization, and you respect their kind of position on particular positions that your organization might want to make that relate to their expertise, then as an organization I think you’re going to make much more effective decisions.

Now, the MoJ’s been on a really interesting journey of hiring huge numbers of specialists into our growing digital and technology space. And that, I believe, has made us a much, much more effective decision maker around technology, and that’s whether you buy it or you build it. And I think a lot of people would recognize this pattern that the experts are often cynics. I work a lot with technologists obviously, and some of the people I respect most are extremely cynical about technology.

Blockchain’s a good example of that. I think blockchain went with quite rapid pace through the hype, certainly in my community. It dropped off quite significantly, to the point where I’m now skeptical that blockchain is actually useful for almost any problem I can think of. Yet, at some point maybe two years ago, I was probably still in that head space, a lot of people were like, “Oh, maybe this can solve some of those problems that we’ve been trying to solve for years. There’s some real, real potential in this technology.” And then that cynicism comes in and you start… I remember one of the earliest kind of discoveries was a long the lines of a very simple construct, like a Merkel Tree actually holds the true value of what a blockchain is.

But that’s an extremely widely available construct in most programming languages, so it was actually nothing new. And that takes all the buzz out of the hype technology. And I think I’m starting to see a similar thing happen with AI. I think the cynicism of the community is starting to erode that extremely visionary sense of what AI is going to do over the next few years.

But I do think there’s, I mean, I can’t remember the exact quote. There’s a quote along the lines of like, “Most of these innovations are very underwhelming in short term, but then surprise everyone in the long term.” So I do think AI will have an enormous impact on society. I just think perhaps it won’t be in the next ten years.

Chad: Which goes to your point you raise in the article, too, is you said, “One of the ways to protect against the hype culture and the innovation façade is to iterate.” What specifically did you mean when you mentioned that in the article?

Dave: Iteration kind of… The characteristic of iteration that’s so important is that you’re remaining very open minded throughout the design of the technology. That, combined with the principle of simplicity, means that the ideal outcome of delivering any technology is that you discover an incredibly simple solution. And if you iterate through the problem, and you remain open minded, and you understand and reflect upon your users’ experience of the technology that you’re delivering, you’re much more likely to land upon those simple solutions.

A colleague of mine used to work in  Ministry Justice said that, “The whole of justice, in terms of what we might want to achieve digitally, is largely going to be characterized by taking strings, putting them in databases, and taking them back out again.” Justice at the moment is just quite a simple, transactional process, and the scale problems that we deal with are actually to do with the kind of almost fractal complexity of the human emotions, and different situations that people find themselves in the justice system.

So iteration helps us to kind of step through what are extremely complex service design problems. But in terms of technology, we typically end up with some very, very simple web technology at the end of it.

“Toxicity” of Legacy Software

Chad: Dave’s point about the innovation façade and hype technology is mainly focused on new and emerging technologies, but he also has some great insight about older and existing technologies, technology he refers to as “legacy.” But he also points out that there’s a risk with using some of this technology, and the calls the risk, “the toxicity of legacy.” “The toxicity of legacy” refers to software that is poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, not compliant, and inefficient. This “toxicity of legacy” can be a potential existential threat to both large and small organizations.

Dave: A colleague of mine, John Lawrence, came up with the term “firstable.” I think he was using it to describe data, but it really struck me as quite a powerful word to use around technology because… Well, the word “toxic” means, I guess, is very actively harmful, and I believe the majority view on “legacy” I think is still that it’s a very static thing.

So I think, you talk about legacy technology, let’s say in the banking sector, people probably think of these very peaceful mainframes that sit in the basement. They were built in the 70s; no one knows how to change them, but they don’t really have any kind of dynamism to them. Whereas I’m trying to describe a situation where technology is actually very much alive, even if it’s not changing. And what I mean by that is, the context around technology is constantly changing. So, if you take the cyber security context, a system that has remained unchanged for a year may now have a vulnerability that is know to the entire world. So even though the technology has changed, its relationship to the world has changed.

Equally, we’re seeing the instruction of new legislation. So GDPR is having an enormous impact in Europe, in terms of how we think about data privacy. And the point at which that law is introduced, the technology might not be keeping pace with that if it remains exactly the same.

So if you take those types of factors and reframe “legacy” technology as something that is more dynamic, and dynamic in the sense it’s getting worse over time if you don’t invest in it, then it has the feel of something that is quite toxic to your organization. And I think everyone can kind of recognize those patterns of what happens when “legacy” emerges at scale. You end up in a situation where you’re, every year you’re accepting more and more risk. You’re writing reports to explain that you haven’t patched, you haven’t been able to upgrade, you might start to be taking risks around emerging legislation and whether or not you’re going to be able to make things compliant, and I think, worst of all, you also see that you’re ability to change the underlying technology becomes harder and harder. A small change to a business-critical system might take six to eighteen months to deliver.

Now in that scenario, the technology is becoming truly toxic to your organization. It’s preventing changes to business processes, it’s preventing radical service redesign, and it’s effectively limiting your opportunities for change. And I think that refraining of “legacy” is not something passive and static, but something very, very toxic to your organization. For me, it’s the correct framing for “legacy” in order to raise its profile and get people to start talking about it, and addressing it.

Chad: And, speaking of addressing it, one of the things you say in the article is that, here’s the quote: “Design your technology organization, and budget around services, not projects.” Why do you think that helps?

Dave: So the thinking behind that, and there’s lots of threads that come together around that theme, I think there was a government digital service article some time ago called, “Fund Teams, Not Projects.” The service mentality gets you to think about technology as something that requires ongoing ownership, and ongoing ownership means that you start to think about the risks around “legacy” in conjunction with the delivery of new technology. And it allows you to consider things through the lens of a balance of priorities. So, should we be spending today working on upgrading a component to reduce a cyber risk, or should we spend today adding another feature to the system? And the answer isn’t clear in any circumstance, because you’ve got to way out the benefits and risks of different routes you might take.

The projects encourage a very different kind of framing. They have a start and they have a finish criteria, and once it’s finished, you do have concepts such as handing over to operations teams, or acceptance into service criteria, and so on. But they all seem to have a mentality of treating technology as something that is done, something that is now static, and worst of all, as something that is an asset to the organization.

And that starts to get into the way in which we financially treat technology. We treat technology typically as a capital asset, rather than this thing that might be better perceived as a liability to your organization. I speak to my boss, Tom Reid, about this yesterday, and he came up with a great analogy, which was, “If you have a broken boiler in a house, it doesn’t make the house more valuable. If anything, it knocks something off the house price.” We need to get that kind of mentality into areas such as accountancy and the governance of organizations so that we start treating that technology correctly.

Chad: Well, that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Technically Legal. As always, I really appreciate your support and listening. If you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcast platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Google, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you want to get a hold of me, my e-mail is cmain@percipient.co. Cmain@percipient.co. Thanks again for listening, and this has been another episode of Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 18: Greg Siskind on Process Automation for Lawyers

The focus of this episode is automation of legal processes by law firms and in-house legal teams. We talk to Greg Siskind, a Memphis lawyer with Siskind Susser, a leading U.S. immigration law firm that handles all aspects of immigration and nationality law.

As Greg explains, he and his firm automate both client facing and internal legal processes. For instance, prospective and existing clients can access firm-built apps to determine if they qualify for visas and provide customer feedback. Internally, among other automated processes, Siskind Susser lawyers have access to tools that generate retainer agreements and help perform legal research.

As we learn from Greg, automation solves several problems and has several benefits, including a way to limit errors, automate expertise, save time and gain marketing exposure.

You can learn more about Greg at visalaw.com or on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef

For our legal tech founder segment, we stick to the automation theme and talk to Tom Dreyfus, the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an automation platform helping lawyers create legal chatbots, streamline processes, eliminate repetitive tasks and access new revenue streams.

With Josef, lawyers can create legal chatbots without the need for developers.  Company clients include law firms, governments, in-house legal teams and public interest legal groups.

To learn more about Tom or Josef visit joseflegal.com.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode

Usenet

Bulletin Boards

Expert Systems

Neota Logic

Ross Intelligence

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA)

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Entrepreneur Parole

ABA Blueprint

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main:          This episode is all about automation of legal processing. We talk to Memphis immigration lawyer Greg SIskind about how he uses technology to automate many of his legal tasks. We also talk to Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an app from its lawyers to create bots to automate some of their workloads and processes.

Chad Main:          This episode was recorded live and direct from Soulsville, USA. That’s right. Memphis, Tennessee. Don’t think Memphis is a hotbed of legal tech activity? That might be somewhat true, but our guest lives there, and he’s one of the earliest adopters of legal technology out there.

Chad Main:          On today’s show, we talk to immigration lawyer, Greg Siskind. He practices with the law firm of Siskind & Susser, where he handles all kinds of immigration matters. He helps individuals try to get legal immigration status. He helps corporate clients and startups try to get work visas for star talent from other countries, and he even helps sports/entertainment clients trying to get their artists and athletes permission to work in the United States.

The First Law Firm Website (Almost)

Chad Main:          So, why do I say Greg is one of the earliest adopters of legal tech? He’s an OG as far as use of tech in legal goes, because he literally almost had the very first law firm website out there.

Greg:       I ended up getting married, in Memorial Day of ’94. I was working on this website. But, we took a little honeymoon. When I came back, in the beginning of June, the website launched. Now, the sad thing for me was, had I launched the website before the honeymoon, I’d had technically would’ve been the first.

Greg:       But, two other DC large firms launched their sites like a week and half, two weeks, before mine went up. Mine was like ready to go. But, I wasn’t gonna launch a website while I’m like in Egypt, at the pyramids. And, that’s what we were doing.

Greg:       So, I was just waiting, and I just assumed that everything was cool. The good thing was, for me, I got a tone of media. Nobody wanted to write about two big DC firms that had launched this website. They were more interested in the sole immigration lawyer in Nashville, who had done this, and was clients from all over the country.

Greg:       That was a lot more interesting for a reporter than how some four, five hundred lawyer law firm was using it to get corporate clients.

Chad Main:          What was the goal of the website? I assume it’s to get business, right?

Greg:       It was to get business, and it was basically to be a publishing platform for me. So, the other thing that, aside from the website, that I started was an email newsletter. And, that was the first email newsletter that I’m aware of.

Greg:       So, the website might have actually landed a couple of weeks late, but the newsletter that I put out was the first newsletter, I think, that any law firm ever distributed electronically. And, that was at the same time that the website launched.

Greg:       And, I think I had to do it at the beginning. I was doing it at the beginning, going through AOL, which was new also at the time. But, AOL had the ability to allow me to do email distribution. And, that was …

Greg:       And, not long … That was not very, no offense against AOL, but it was not … In 1994, that email product was not all that great. I was building up content on the website from the newsletter. I had a link on the website that you could subscribe to, and then I would manually add the person to the list.

Greg:       But, that newsletter grew really, really quickly. I think it was up to about 40000 subscribers towards at its peak.

Chad Main:          Wow! And, what year was that?

Greg:       This was probably after about a … maybe about two years in.

Chad Main:          So, not a long time, and it still-

Greg:       No. So, it was being distributed far and wide. And, I didn’t really have any competition from the immigration bar, probably for a good two years. So, I had some space to grow.

Greg Moves Into Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As we just heard, Greg saw the value in internet and email for marketing and client development. As an early adopter of the law firm who utilized the internet, it is not surprising that Greg progressed into using tech to automate task and processes that he was running into, every day at his immigration practice.

Chad Main:          As we will hear throughout this episode, automation helps with more than just marketing, although that is a key feature, and should not be overlooked. Automation helps create consistency in processes, it digitizes expertise, reduces mistakes, facilitates communication, and very importantly, it saves time.

Chad Main:          Greg’s first forte into legal automation wasn’t too sexy or complicated. But, taking one step at a time, Greg’s use of automation has grown exponentially.

Greg:       One of the things I did, early on, was try and find things that were not available electronically. So, even though the website was more of a marketing tool early on, I was taking a lot of primary resources and just digitizing them, and getting them on our website.

Greg:       In terms of automation, the other thing that was a first for us, back in about ’97 or so, was the immigration forms. This sounds like a basic thing that you just go on to USCIS website, and you can either-

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       USCIS is the agency that handles immigration. Now, you go on, there’s a form section. Some of them are electronically submitted. Some of them you download as Adobe, and you print them out. There was no Adobe Acrobat. Well, there was. Adobe Acrobat had just started making PDF conversion tools available to the masses.

Greg:       So, that was a traffic builder for me, was I went and I got the forms, ordered the paper forms from the immigration service, and got all the popular ones, and then scanned them, and made them into PDFs and put them on our website, which sounds like the lowest tech thing that you can imagine today. But, it was like a huge deal, because it was the only place on the entire internet you could find government forms.

Greg:       The INS was the agency before USCIS. They did not have a website until about 1998, 99. Their first website, all it was was a photo and a bio of the INS commissioner. Not very helpful.

Greg:       So, I was getting a lot of traffic there. And, it certainly occurred to me that … So, you asked when I got started. So, I would say it’s always sort of been in the background trying to find-

Chad Main:          I count that. I mean, I count that at some level, because you automating the process of filling in these forms.

Greg:       Right. But, in terms of more recent years, we’re definitely interested in trying to use tools on basically taking the expertise of our lawyers, and building automation tools that offload that expertise into tools for lawyers, for internal use for lawyers, for potential clients, that they can get that information on demand, as opposed to having to have a lawyer basically regurgitate it, and better information, because lawyers make mistakes.

Greg:       They often times make assumptions as far as what they think they’re hearing. I’m not talking about mistakes in terms of malpractice or anything like that. But, not necessarily interpreting correctly what they’re hearing, or missing asking for some background information that would change the answers.

Greg:       And so, a couple of years ago, I started hearing about expert systems that were using artificial intelligence, and decided that that was something that made a lot of sense for immigration law. We are a practice that is very rules oriented.

Greg:       It’s a lot of times in our heads, we’re using decision trees, we have a lot of time decision trees in our practice, that we’re using to figure out whether people qualify for different benefits. We are assembling a lot of documents that are based on what we’re finding out.

Greg:       And, we have been, for a long, trying to figure out, in our firm, how to streamline processes, and be more efficient, and be more consistent how we do things across the firm. And, as we started to get into that, heard about Neota Logic, which is an expert system software that was one of the first AI products that were out there. Heard about ROSS Intelligence, and a couple of others.

Greg:       But anyway, I contacted Neota. Neota, their early clients were largely large firms, and had some interesting products. And, it was expensive. But, I talked them into taking a chance on a small immigration firm that was gonna try and do some different things it. And, that product has been great, as far as what I’ve …

Greg:       We found that it was very versatile, as far as things that we could do. So, for example-

Chad Main:          For the listeners, what’s the elevator pitch in Neota Logic? What does it do for lawyers?

Greg:       Basically, it offloads the legal analysis from lawyer’s brain to an application, so that essentially, the app allows you do an interview, and basically come up with a legal analysis at the end that would be very similar to what a lawyer would be doing if you were face to face with the lawyer, and the lawyer was interviewing you, to figure out if you qualify or if a lawyer needed to get information from you, in order to build a legal document.

Greg:       It basically automates that interaction between a lawyer and a client.

DAPA Automation Tool

Chad Main:          One of the first things Greg did with tool automation was client phasing. He created an app for people to use to see if they qualify for DAPA, which is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. That is a precursor to DACA, which I’m sure all of you have heard a lot about in the news lately, which is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Chad Main:          Because of legal uncertainty, the DAPA app kind of got stuck in limbo. So then, Greg made another app. This time, it was an app that startups and entrepreneurs could see if they had a chance to get a Visa to hire employees from outside the United States. Unfortunately for Greg, the powers that be also kind of put that app into limbo too.

Chad Main:          But, the point is this, apps can be built to help attract clients, help clients help themselves, and also streamline communication with both potential and existing clients.

Greg:       Well, so the first tool that we took out was … It’s kind of sad how this shock out. But, I guess it depends on your perspective. But, we wanted to have a big splash with the first tool that we rolled out with Neota.

Greg:       And, it was during the Obama administration. And, they had announced a program in 2014 called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. And basically, this was a follow up to the DACA program that’s been in the news a lot lately. And, DAPA was gonna benefit about four million people. And, they announced the rules, and then immediately was taken to court.

Greg:       And so, what we had done was we built an app that help people figure out if they qualified for the program. And, there were a bunch of complicated rules as far as whether they qualified or not. We built this whole thing, but we couldn’t actually put it out there, because the program is tied up in the courts.

Greg:       Well, it works its was all the way to the Supreme Court. And, we find out what they, the Supreme Court … It’s the last case of the year for the Supreme Court. So, we had this app built, and we were going to launch it, as soon as the Supreme Court upheld DAPA.

Greg:       So, we had this whole app built that was basically ready to go. We had press releases. We had everything all set. And then, the Supreme Court ended up on a 4-4 tie. And, the program died because the lower, the fifth circuit decision stood on there.

Greg:       So, the first app never actually launched because of that. It was really good exercise for us to build this whole thing. We gambled that if it succeeded, and the Supreme Court had ruled in favor, I think we thought that the odds were that they were going to, that we would have this.

Greg:       It would be a very exciting news making thing, ’cause everybody would be excited about this program going forward. But, here’s this tool that instantly available that you don’t have to go to a lawyer. You can just go online. And, we had in the Spanish version, we had an English version of it, all ready to go.

Greg:       So, that didn’t happen. But-

Entrepreneur Parole Tool

Chad Main:          You said it was good exercise. But, there is one you did that we talked about it earlier, before we went on. The Parole.

Greg:       Yes. So, that was also a … President Obama, in 2014, came up with this whole package of these reforms that he was gonna do on immigration after congress couldn’t get their act together and pass an immigration reform package. So, he had a bunch of announcements.

Greg:       One of the was the DAPA program I just mentioned. Another one was something called Entrepreneur Parole.

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       Entrepreneur Parole was a program that they were trying to figure out this problem where they have this visa called an H-1B visa. It is in short supply. And, they had a lot of high profile cases where startup companies, founders, didn’t get picked in the annual H-1B lottery, and they ended up having to close their companies down, or migrate their companies to Canada, or not be able to grow as quickly as they wanted, or fire sale, where the founders could get out of it.

Greg:       So, they came up with this program that based on a whole series of criteria, that the immigration service could exercise discretion and allow a founder of the company to qualify for a work card for up to five years.

Chad Main:          Just correct me if my wrong, and this is my layman’s understanding of these H-1B visas. There’s a quota on them, and they’re only available to non US citizens with certain skills, or certain high level skills. Is that correct?

Greg:       Has to be at least a bachelor’s level background that they have. And, they have been getting, sometimes, over 200000 application for 65000 sports. So, it is very much a lottery. It’s a lottery. They draw them once a year. Basically, a company’s fate.

Greg:       You start a company. So, whole fate depends on whether they get picked or not in the lottery. Some of them have US workers, and they have venture capital funding, and there’s a lot riding on it.

Greg:       So, the Obama administration comes up with this plan, and they issue a proposed rule in late 2015. Late 2016, I apologize. And, we built the app based on the proposed rule. And then, we were watching to … And then, the plan was to tweak it when the final rule came out. And, launch the app. Just build the app, have it sitting in the server, and then launch it, hopefully within a day or two with the final app, because our assumption was that the rule wasn’t gonna change that much.

Greg:       And, they, the Obama administration, got this program launched like the week before Trump got inaugurated. So, they beat the clock, and they got the program out. And, they announced it was gonna have a six month lead in before the first application would come.

Greg:       But, we had the app launched, I think, 35, 48 hours after the rule went final. So-

Chad Main:          And, you say it’s still online.

Greg:       Yeah. It’s still online. It’s entrepreneur_parole.com. And so, we launched this thing. And then of course, the Trump administration decided that they wanted to kill the program, even though I don’t really … I mean, it’s a very pro business program. I don’t know what their problem is with it.

Greg:       But, they decided they wanna kill the program. And then, it ends up in court, where … And, I fortunate actually to be involved with the plaintiff’s group that was working on it. But, the case was successful, and the Trump administration was forced to actually open the program up. They hadn’t. They were supposed to open it in July, after six months passed. They didn’t do it. They got sued.

Greg:       The court said you have to open the program up. They opened the program up. They got about 15 application, and they have been sitting for all 2018, without a decision. But, the app is still up. It’s still technically tells you that you qualify. But, it’s gonna take a judge, probably, to make the government-

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk about the app. It’s built on the Neota Logic?

Greg:       Yeah.

Chad Main:          Who is the target user?

Greg:       The target user are founders themselves, and the venture capital and funding community.

Chad Main:          And, they go online, and there’s … I actually tested it out to see what it did. So, they go online, there’s questions asked. And, the questions are?

Greg:       The questions are; when was the company founded? How much funding have you gotten? Whether the funders are qualified? Are they US citizens? Are they individuals? Are they companies? There’s a bunch of questions to see whether the government can make a safe bet that the company has a reasonable shot of growing quickly, and creating jobs.

Greg:       So, we go through all that. And then, at the end, we came up with a meter from red to green, as far as the likelihood. Nobody actually … There’s no guarantees with this program, because it’s discretionary. But, there are certain things that definitely make you not qualify. And then, there are factors that make you qualify.

Greg:       So basically, what we ended up doing was we gave a rough score on what we thought that the person’s chances were, and then an explanation of why we came up with that. What the negative factors, or what the positive factors were.

Greg:       And then, this is also … This was kind of a cool thing that were able to do with Neota. If they scored poorly, we sent them to one page that was to set up a paid consultation with the firm. And, if they scored well, we sent them to another page where they got free consultation with firm.

Greg:       Of course they didn’t know. People don’t know that when they’re filling it out. But, the idea is that if they scored well, we thought that there’s potential work there, and there’s a solution for them. If they score poorly, we don’t know if there’s a solution for them. There might be other things that are available.

Greg:       Then that’s one of the cool things about Neota is that at the end of the sort of questionnaire, you can have a scoring system, you can have a generated document for you. You can do a lot of different kinds of things, as far as what happens after the person goes through that process.

Use of Automation to Gauge Client Satisfaction

Chad Main:          Another app Greg built to help strengthen client relationships is a client satisfaction survey. And, if you’ve listened to some of our prior episodes, you know conducting client interviews to gauge client satisfaction is key to building a strong practice.

Greg:       We wanted to build our own client survey tool. So, we built a very simple survey that looks very similar to online surveys that you take from any business that you go to. And, it’s just a couple of questions.

Greg:       And, it dropped down which attorney you worked with, with paralegal you worked with, and asked some basic questions about your experience. And then, a comment box if you wanna say anything or nice. You rated one to five, like most of the websites that are out there.

Greg:       And, if they score us a five, then they’re invited to go to a … They go to another page where they’re invited to go on to one of our social media pages where the firm has a presence, whether it’s, or whether it’s Google, or Facebook, or whatever, and rate us there.

Greg:       If they rate us poorly, that’s actually more important information to me than a nice rating on social media, because I wanna know what went wrong with the case, and where their dissatisfaction was, because a) we wanna address it, and b) somebody that, if you don’t address it, they’re gonna go out on social media and say bad things anyway. And, you’ll have deserved them, in a lot of cases if you didn’t address them.

Chad Main:          How do you get this survey to the client?

Greg:       So, that’s actually right in front of you, right there. We stick that on the final letter that we send to a client. And, it’s just a little sticky note that goes on, and there’s just a little website for feedback. And, some of the lawyers, I think, put in their signature blocks, some of them put the sticky notes on their letters that go out, either at the end or in the middle of the case, or wherever they are.

Greg:       And, I think also on the website, there’s a feedback link.

LegalTech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef Legal

Chad Main:          We’re gonna take five from our conversation with Greg, because it’s now time for the legal tech founder segment. In this episode, we’re sticking to our automation theme, because our guest is Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef. Josef is an app lawyers can use to create their own legal chatbots and streamline processes.

Chad Main:          Although Tom spends a good deal of his time here in the good old United States, he hails from the land down under, which is where we caught up to him, in Melbourne. 95 degree temps, at 7:30 in the morning, while I was dealing with subzero temperatures in Chicago in the middle of the afternoon.

Chad Main:          Tom, thanks for being here today, and good morning to you. My day is about done. Yours is just starting. Tell us a little bit about Josef.

Tom Dreyfus:        Thanks very much for having me, Chad. What we’ve built with Josef is a legal automation platform that is really easy to use. It’s designed for any lawyer, anywhere, any time, to build logic driven workflows, integrate them with document automation inside our platform, and launch those products to their clients in a conversational interface. So, as a legal bot.

Tom Dreyfus:        It’s designed so that lawyers can take the high volume repeatable services that they provide, and create automated and scalable versions of them, for their clients to access online.

Chad Main:          And, I saw you have a law degree and were a solicitor prior to Josef. Is that correct?

Tom Dreyfus:        That is correct. So, as you might hear by my accent, I am Australian. I went to law school here, and then practiced as a big law attorney in Australia. I clerked at our highest court. And then, I went over to New York to study legal data analytics at Columbia Law School.

Chad Main:          And so, how do you end up getting into legaltech and creating the app?

Tom Dreyfus:        Yeah. I mean, this is a great question. We actually created the app in response to demand from both Australian and American legal services organizations, who were looking at ways to use technology to help them to bridge the access to justice gap.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, one thing that we realized talking to them, and it’s something that’s sort of been repeated to us over and over by lawyers and attorneys across legal organizations of every size, from the biggest firms to the smallest, from in house teams to legal services organizations, was that legal technology, for the most part, is hard to use.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, even though there are attorneys who really want to create products that they know their clients will use and love, the platforms to do it require intensive training. The barriers to using them are just too high for organizations to incorporate them into their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, what we did was we identified this need for really simple, really easy to use legal technology, initially in the access to justice space. And, since we built and launched the platform, we’ve really expanded across the industry.

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk a little bit about under the hood. What are some of the features that Josef offers to create these bots?

Tom Dreyfus:        When we talk about Josef, we talk about three core features. So, the first one is a workflow buildup. And so, what that is, is a click type, drag and drop interface for attorneys to build logic driven workflows that reflect the work that they do with their clients, day to day. So, that allows them to create series of questions, a conversation, that their clients can use to provide them with all of the data that they need to do the legal work for them.

Tom Dreyfus:        Now, the second core feature is a document editor. So, what that looks like is a place for you to take your pre-existing templates, all of those legal documents that you have in your document management system, and you can input them into our platform, and layer in the logic from the automated workflow that you created.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you have some legal agreement, or a form, or a letter, that you know you can create an automated form of, if you only had access to the client data necessary to populate that document, and generate it on a customized basis. So, the second core feature is that document editor for you to build those documents.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, the third core feature is the conversational interface itself. And so, this is something that we’re really proud of. I think that legal technology, for a long time, especially for end users, the clients, has been pretty old fashioned, stuck in kind of web forms. And, no one likes filling out forms.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, this third core feature is a conversational interface. So, what some people might call a chat bot, where your clients, or if it’s internal phasing, your attorneys, get to interact with the automated products that you’ve built. That’s where they put in all of the data that’s gonna feed into those automated documents, that can then be generated as part of the end to end automated legal service that you’ve built.

Chad Main:          And, you said there’s an API available?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. So, our API is open. We can push and pull data from any external source. We have a number of really exciting integrations that have been both built already, and are in the works. I’m very happy to talk to anyone interested in using the platform to integrate with third party data sources about their plans, their projects. That’s some of the most exciting work we do.

Chad Main:          And, the app is … It could be used really virtually any size of law firm or legal department, right?

Tom Dreyfus:        That’s absolutely true. So, to give you a sense of who is using it, we have a solo lawyer in Florida who is using it to create an automated version of a part of filing for bankruptcy, all the way up to one of the largest firms in the world, who is rolling out access to Josef on a distributed basis across offices in, I think it’s, 12 different countries.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, in between, we have some of the most impactful legal services organizations using the platform. We even have the American Bar Association using Josef to power a service that they provide to their members.

Chad Main:          And, let’s talk about that for a second, because you mentioned to me before we hoped on, that’s a program called Blueprint. So, if people wanna see Josef in action, the can visit the ABA website. And, where would they find that?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. If you head to abablueprint.com, you will see this great service that’s been developed in partnership with the ABA and CuroLegal. And so, what we’ve done on Josef, with the ABA is build this service that more firm attorneys, solo attorneys can use to understand what technology is out there, what technology they should use for different parts of their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, all of this is powered by Josef’s logic engine. And, at the end of your interaction with ABA Blueprint, the system will actually provide you with a report containing recommendations of different products. It will diagnose where in your practice some technology might really help you do what you do even better.

Chad Main:          Well, that’s great. I appreciate your time today. If people wanna learn more about Josef, where do they go?

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you should head to joseflegal.com. You can request a demo. That will come through to my team, and I will be in touch as soon as I possibly can.

Internal Facing Legal Automation

Chad Main:          So, let’s get back to our talk with Greg about automation of legal processes in law firms and legal departments. So, Greg has talked a lot about applications that are client facing. But, many of the benefits legal departments and law firms can gain is the automation of internal processes.

Chad Main:          For instance, Greg’s firm uses automation to generate retainers, and engagement agreements.

Greg:       So, we have a retainer generator tool that we built also using Neota. So, the problem we were encountering, at the firm, was that we would have a template that we would push out to the lawyers.

Greg:       And, it was like the telephone game, where everybody starts out with the same engagement letter, and then they evolve in different directions, and people add something that … This lawyer adds something for this case that made sense in their case, and they basically mock up that same engagement letter for the next client. And then, eventually everybody has different engagement letters across the firm.

Greg:       We wanted to end that, and have consistency, and make sure there were certain important things that we wanted to have in the document like the conflicts of interest, and consistency of fees, and all kind of things like that.

Greg:       So, we decided to build this tool that would ask basic questions to the lawyer that was creating the engagement letter. Type of case, and how they wanted to structure the fees, and all kinds of things like that.

Greg:       And, we built in fee calculators to make it easier for people to … Actually, we bill a lot of cases on a flat fee basis at the firm. So, we may structure where people pay, and benchmarks at different stages, or they may pay a flat fee per month, or they may pay X% quarterly, or that kind of thing. And, there’s different ways that it’s done.

Greg:       We also wanted to make sure that we were having consistency on our fees. We have a fee schedule. And so, we also built it in with the tool, where we wanted the firm’s official fee to flow into the agreement.

Greg:       Now, a lawyer may make an adjustment here or there from the official fee. But, we built this tool that after the lawyer fills out the form, which may be a dozen questions or so, then it’ll generate the document or it’ll calculate the fees. It will pull in the fee from the fee schedule, and then it just makes it a lot faster for the lawyer to push it out. And then, we upload the right signature for digital signature and send it to the client.

Greg:       But, we have … Lawyers like it. And also, it solved this problem where we had all these inconsistencies.

Siskind & Susser’s Automated Tool For Doctors to Determine Visa Eligibility

Chad Main:          One of the most ambitious automation projects Greg and his firm undertook is a tool that its lawyers and clients can use to determine if doctors from other countries might qualify for work visas in the United States.

Chad Main:          As noted earlier, although Greg practices in law firm, automation is also very well suited for use in corporate legal departments. And, the doctor visa analysis tool, he and his firm has developed, is a great example of how certain types of legal analysis can be automated, something in house legal departments can take advantage of for legal questions that come up routinely, and tie up law department resources when they may not need to.

Greg:       It’s a tool that helps to determine if a doctor qualifies for a visa. And, the reason why it’s so complicated is immigration’s all federal. So, generally speaking, we have one set of rules for the whole country for immigration, except for doctors.

Greg:       Congress created this program where they delegated to each state the ability to custom design your own immigration program to get doctors into shortage areas, mostly rural areas, Indian tribal clinics, and places like that.

Greg:       And so, what will typically happen for us is physician recruiters have a real struggle of trying to figure out whether they can recruit a doctor or not, that was educated abroad. They are trained in the United States. And, it’s about a quarter of all the doctors that are in the United States in training.

Greg:       So, we’re not talking about a small group. We’re talking about roughly 78000 doctors that enter US every year for training, for residency programs. So, it’s a pretty big pool of doctors that they’re recruiting from.

Greg:       But anyway, figuring out whether they qualify, there are so many rules, and they differ from state to state. It’s very hard for a physician recruiter, a headhunter to be able to figure out if they can recruit a doctor or not for their facility, and whether the doctor qualifies, because a doctor has to meet a bunch of requirements, the hospital has to meet a bunch of requirements.

Chad Main:          So, give me examples some of the requirements that have to be met.

Greg:       So, they have to accept Medicaid, they have to be in what’s called a health professional shortage area, which is the US Department of Health and Human Services designated certain locations as having shortages of doctors. They have to have a certain amount of recruiting that they’ve gone through to try and get the doctor there. They have salary requirements that they have to meet.

Greg:       Sometimes there’s a bunch of requirements for what would need to be in the employment contract, which will work for some employers and not for others. A lot of issues that have to be dealt with. And, I think it’s one of the most complicated areas in immigration law, which is why there’s not a lot of lawyers, immigration lawyers, that handle doctor cases.

Greg:       But, the challenge that we’ve had over the years is because these physician recruiters get intimidated by the rules, they tend to, even though the shortages are dire in some places, they will still do everything that they can not look at the international doctor, even though they may be educated or trained at Harvard, and have all the requirements that they want, they just are intimidated by the immigration aspects of it.

Greg:       So, the lawyers, a lot of times, if you can make the process easier for the recruiter, it makes good sense from a business point of view, from an immigration lawyer, because they’re more likely to recruit that doctor, and they’re more likely to use your services.

Greg:       So, over the years, we’ve decided, for example, even though we charge for consultations, we always say we don’t charge hospitals for consultations regarding physician recruiting, because we didn’t wanna have one more reason for them to put that resume to the side.

Greg:       But, when they contact us, we have to go through this research process to figure out whether this location qualifies. We have to look at their address, we have to ask them a bunch of questions about their own practices, we have to ask questions about the doctor.

Greg:       And sometimes, it takes us a couple of days to get back with them. And, in of itself is a burden on the firm, because we have to go through this research process, and they may end up not hiring this doctor.

Greg:       And, it’s a burden on the recruiter, has to sit and wait, and they may still decide that, “You know what, it’s still too much of a pin in the neck to call a law firm up, even though we’re not charging for it.”

Greg:       So, what we wanted to do was to build out a tool that essentially had all the research built into it. The question sets would be different for every state, because remember every state gets to custom design their program. It will query the necessary databases.

Greg:       So, remember there’s a salary question, and it’s based on Department of Labor data. So, we wanted the tool to query the data from the department of labor. We wanted the tool to query the shortage area data. And then, we wanted them to ask all the questions that were appropriate for that particular state.

Greg:       Some states have some federal programs in there as well. So, it sort of it more complicated, because you have to ask questions based on more than one potential program that you could use in the state.

Greg:       So, we had this idea of this simple looking app that was actually fairly massive in what’s happening behind the scenes. And, we have been pushing it out about a state per week, over the last year, to finally get that done.

Greg:       And, I think that … I mean, it’s probably, I think, the most ambitious app that anybody would have done with Neota, and probably, I think, in legal, using an expert system like this, probably as far as the amount of labor that’s gone in. I think probably as much as any tool that’s been developed to date.

Chad Main:          I’ve got two question for you on that. So, number one, who’s using it? The attorneys? Paralegals? Others in the firm?

Greg:       It will be used by the attorneys and the paralegals who need to find out the answers themselves. So, it’s a lot faster for us to look it up in the tool than it’s gonna be to basically go and do the research.

Chad Main:          And, how is the answer given to you? What’s spit out?

Greg:       So, at the end it spits out a … We use that metering system, red, yellow, green light. Red means that you don’t qualify. And, it’ll tell you why you didn’t qualify in there, because it maybe something that you can address.

Greg:       It’ll tell you yellow, like some states for example, some of the programs have a limited number that you can do per year in the state. So, it may mean that you’ve met all the qualifications, but they have a lottery for doctors in their state. And so, you may not qualify, even though you meet all the rules.

Greg:       For green, it’s a state, there’s either no limits on the numbers, or it’s a state that tends to never fill up.

Greg:       And then, we have a checklist of all the items that are gonna be needed in order to be able to proceed with the case. So, this is something we want clients also to fill up, because they’ll get the answer they want, without having to wait on the law firm. So, they’ll know whether they should recruit that doctor or not.

Greg:       Basically, they’re getting a green light to recruit the doctor. And, some of these cases, I mean, you’re talking about people that are gonna be making anywhere from two to five hundred thousand dollars a year salaries. So, it’s a lot of money riding on recruitment.

Greg:       And, they’ll get a list of all the things that they’re going to have to provide in order to proceed with the case. So, that’s also something that saves some time before they actually … And, the law firm get it as well. So, we know they contact us, what the app said. On there, we can look at the logic as well, and we’ll know that without having to spend the time going through all the questions again that this is going to be a case that should work, as long as they answered the questions correctly.

Greg:       So, it’s designed for clients, and it’s designed for us. And then, we were talking beforehand, we probably will sell it to our competition as well.

It Takes Team Effort to Develop Automation for Law Firms

Chad Main:          So, what goes into the development of Siskind and Susser automation tools? A team effort.

Greg:       So, there’s a couple of folks that are involved. So, we have lawyers that are involved on the quality control issue, making sure that they’re going to the question sets that the answers correct, and that the questions are the correct questions.

Greg:       We have a couple of paralegals who have been helping as far as developing the question sets. These are people that regularly work with clients in terms of developing a checklist and everything that they’re gonna need.

Greg:       And then, we had two people in the office that are involved with coding. And, it’s coding, not in the sense that you have to have a background as a computer programmer. With Neota and with some of the other tools, you need to be technically comfortable. But, you don’t have to have a programming background in order to be able to develop with Neota-

Chad Main:          That’s the whole point of these tools. Those with non development, non coding background-

Greg:       They can be trained, right? So, we’ve had, probably on this tool, about six or seven people that have been working on it consistently.

Where to Start with Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As I got ready to end my visit with Greg, I asked him the question I ask most of our podcast guests. Where can people start doing what he’s doing?

Greg:       So, I think one of the first things that you should be doing as a lawyer … It’s not so much from a technology perspective, but you really should be mapping out your processes. So, in most practices, even though every case maybe unique and have it’s own … There are standard procedures for it.

Greg:       If you’re litigator, there are certain steps that you go through in terms of preparing your documents, and collecting information, and how you set up your files, and all that. And, I think the first thing that we’ve been struggling with, and trying to deal with as well in our firm, is really trying to map out all of our processes, so that we can figure out where we can streamline and automate.

Greg:       But, just the actual process of going through and figuring out, even if you don’t develop, use technology to automate that system, having your system actually mapped out, and understanding what your system is, and it maybe that it’s completely half hazard. If you go through that process, I think it sort of reveals itself where you should be automating.

Greg:       So, that’s step one. I think that it’s been around for 30 years. But, document automation, probably most law firms can start with that as far as figuring out where your forms library that everybody’s had, and used to have in file cabinets. And now, it’s electronic.

Greg:       But, that’s probably the easiest place for a lot of firms to start, is on basic document assembly. And, you don’t have to have necessarily artificial intelligence tools to be using that. There are tools that have been around for a lot of years that are available for that.

Greg:       So, I would probably say that would be the place I would say. For a lot of firms would be to start with document assembly. As far as the expert systems kind of thing we’re talking about, I think the good news is this is an area that is about to get a lot of competition, and also of less expensive tools, that are pretty user friendly. And, we’ve been seeing a lot of them in course of researching how we’re moving forward.

Greg:       So, I think once you’ve gone through that, and figured out the … And probably, and hopefully, that of these things that we talked about today will get people sort of some ideas of their thinking about the interactions that they have with their clients, that there’s a lot of repetition, in how they do things, and the advice that they give.

Greg:       But, I would say, probably my guess is in the next six to 12 months, some of these inexpensive tools are gonna be coming online, that do some of the things that Neota does, some of the things that Neota probably … Some things that Neota does probably won’t be that easily available.

Greg:       But, I would say that the cost probably won’t be as much of a barrier as they have been. So, those are a couple of things I think that firms could do.

Chad Main:          That’s great. Appreciate your time. If people wanna get in touch with you, how do they find you?

Greg:       They can find me on our website, visalaw.com or on LinkedIn. Probably the two easiest places.

Chad Main:          Great. Thanks.

Greg:       Thank you.

Chad:       So, that’s it for another episode of Technically Legal. We appreciate you listening, and hope you enjoyed it. If you wanna subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you wanna get a hold of me, you can shoot me an email at cmain@percipient.co.

Chad:       Thanks again for listening. And, until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 16: Vishal Agnihotri on Knowledge Management for Law Firms and Legal Departments

Our guest this time is Vishal Agnihotri, Chief Knowledge Officer (or “CKO”) for the Chicago based national law firm, Hinshaw & Culbertson. As CKO, Vishal is responsible for the firm’s knowledge management programs. 

What is knowledge management? Vishal has a great way of defining it: the ability to identify critical knowledge within an organization and then leveraging it to serve up at the right time for the right purpose.

Vishal explains that law firms are great candidates for knowledge management and that for law firm KM programs to succeed, CKOs must work closely with the firm’s Chief Information Officers and Chief Marketing Officers (CIO and CMO).

Vishal talks about her many responsibilities as a law firm CKO including keeping up with changes in legal tech, vendor management, making sure tools and software the firm already owns are used effectively and educating others about KM and related tools.

For law firms and legal departments interested in implementing a knowledge management program, Vishal says the first step is determining what constitutes “critical knowledge” and to use tools to organize that critical information. She suggests a good starting point is a collaboration platform to share knowledge and pose questions and to also utilize a good intranet for the organization.

To connect with Vishal, you can find her on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Jeff Kerr of CaseFleet

We also talk to Jeff Kerr, the CEO of CaseFleet. A case chronology and management tool for lawyers that helps attorneys review evidence, organize facts, and identify trends in legal matters. Jeff also points out that CaseFleet is also used by investigative reporters and expert witnesses.

You can find CaseFleet on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode:

Peter Drucker Knowledge Workers

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Podcast Transcript

Chad Main: I’m Chad Main, and this is Technically Legal, a podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law, where each week we’ll talk to a different mover or shaker in the legal and technology field. We learn a little about them, what they’ve been up to, and hopefully get some real-world tips that will help lawyers better use technology in their legal practices. You just heard from Vishal Agnihotri. She’s the chief knowledge officer for the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson. In this episode we talk to her about knowledge management for law firms and legal departments. We also talk to Jeff Kerr, the CEO and founder of CaseFleet, case chronology software for lawyers.

In this episode we’re talking about knowledge management. What is knowledge management? In short, it’s a way for companies, law firms and legal departments to keep track of the information they collect in their day-to-day business. If ever there is an industry that has a use for knowledge management or KM, for short, it’s the law. The cornerstone of law is knowledge and precedent. Although when many think of lawyers, they might think of a stunning closing argument by a trial lawyer or a shrewd negotiator sitting across the conference table getting the best deal for the client, but as we lawyers know, the vast majority of a lawyer’s time is not spent on exciting verbal activities. In fact, the vast majority of time spent practicing law is doing the mundane, taking a look at the written word, reviewing legal documents, examining contract templates, or looking into laws handed out by governing bodies.

All this information used to be stored in file cabinets and books, but in the digital age, it is stored on computers, and there’s a lot more of it. This is why law is such a perfect profession for knowledge management. Despite what we want to think, not every legal matter cuts new ground or requires lawyers to come up with some new novel legal theory or create a new contract clause. Chances are really good another lawyer somewhere else, probably even in the same law firm or legal department, was hired before to address the same problem. This lawyer has notes, research or document templates that, again, could be put to use. But, often, all that prior knowledge is not that easy to find. It may not be organized, or it may not even be available. That’s where knowledge management comes in.

Our guest today is Vishal Agnihotri. She is the CKO, or chief knowledge officer, for Hinshaw & Culbertson. Although Vishal studied marketing, she got into knowledge management pretty early in her career. Before she made the jump to the legal industry, she worked at consulting and accounting heavyweights like KPMG and Ernst & Young. Vishal has a great way of succinctly describing knowledge management: It’s the ability to identify the critical knowledge within an organization, and then leveraging that information to serve it up at the right time for the right purpose.

Vishal: Knowledge workers, this was a term that Peter Drucker came up with. They’re workers whose main capital is knowledge. When you’re talking about accountants or lawyers or engineers or doctors, they all fall in the same category. Their work involves non-routine problem solving, and it involves convergent and divergent thinking. So, in both capacities, knowledge management is just about raising the corporate IQ, the collective intelligence of the firm itself, and the ability to build on each other’s ideas. So what we sell in a professional services firm is really between our ears. If you’re smart about it, you want to capitalize on what you know, what you’ve done before, so that you can make better margins going forward.

The purpose of a good knowledge management program is really to identify those key critical crown jewels of knowledge, if you will, that, when we leverage correctly, will serve for the firm’s benefit at the right time for the right purpose. Traditionally, this has been a very labor intensive process, so knowledge management was more about curating knowledge, gathering it, painfully, disseminating it for the greater good. We’re finding that that approach is becoming harder to sustain as we live in a world where information has just exploded. There’s an overload, if anything. So it’s giving way to an alternative approach that uses both technology and adaptive behavior to manage knowledge that’s internal to a firm, to manage knowledge that’s external to a firm as well.

 

Technology Begat Knowledge Management and Technology is Needed to Handle Knowledge Management

Chad Main: The interesting thing about knowledge management is that it’s kind of a thing solely because of technology. There has been an explosion of data as a result of the digitization of information, and you need even more technology to get a handle on all this digital information.

Vishal: We create, we curate, and we share digital knowledge in many more forms today than ever before, so firms end up needing a helping hand with managing all of that, in the service of their clients, with well designed systems that everyone understands and that everyone uses. I say uses because sometimes the scale and complexity of interactions between people and content can actually lead to increased business risks, so it is important that people understand how to use the systems, but they also have a fuller understanding of information governance and try to be compliant with that. All of this cannot sit on the shoulders of billable attorneys, and so they do need help with sorting through emerging technologies and evolving regulations around data.

So your point about, yes, somehow the electronic control and management of files of documents has led to some of this issue, and yet we turn back to knowledge. There used to be a time, at least when I started in this discipline 21 years ago, where piecing together information was the larger challenge. These days, that has become lesser of a challenge. What we face now is the challenge of filtering, of accessibility. I think, to some degree, people have started to undervalue information. They think it’s just abundant and it’s at your fingertips, but we know that that’s not the case. We have to make sure that you have integrated your systems well and you’ve employed better search engines, smarter systems, better filtering, and accessibility. Everybody wants it mobile, et cetera. So, yes, some of the problems have been created by technology, and we’re using other forms of technology to now address those.

 

Responsibilities of Law Firm CKO

Chad Main: So now that we have an idea of what knowledge management is, what does a law firm CKO do?

Vishal: As a CKO for a law firm, I straddle the world of business strategy and technology. I work very closely with the firm’s CIO, and my other partner in crime is the CMO. The CKO, like I said, introduces the firm to new tools, new processes, new idea that will enable faster and more effective access to useful, to actionable intelligence. I have a team that oversees all of the research, both legal as well as business research. We manage the vendor relationships for our digital research resources, print collections, et cetera. I’m also responsible for the vendor selection, implementation, training adoption of knowledge tools. This could be a knowledge sharing platform. It could be a smarter search engine, just integrating systems in order to be able to get to answers more effectively.

Even more important than that, while we are looking at surfacing the knowledge we have, because of the exploding legal tech landscape, there are lots of opportunities to automate specific, basic tasks. So what e-discovery tools did for document review, there are now so many other tools in the marketplace that are similarly automating some basic tasks, but changing the game very dramatically. That becomes our role to be sort of a technology purveyor, to go ahead and sort through the tech landscape and make sure that you find the right fits for your organization.

While we’re on that topic, a huge part of the role that I think nobody else necessarily has in the firm, or is at least expected to have, is keeping a lookout for new and interesting technologies. We talk about AI, machine learning, blockchain, et cetera. What are the new tools? What are the new technologies that are popping up? Is any of that relevant to our processes, to our workflows? Do we see them as things that can augment how we do things? Can they be possibilities for new service lines? Are they possibly threats to how we’re doing things? In terms of emerging technologies and both evolving regulations around data privacy, data practices, all of that is also a responsibility that the CKO has.

 

Law Firm CKOs Work Closely With Chief Information Officers and Chief Knowledge Officers

Chad Main: It used to be the only acronyms for business positions was CEO and CFO. Now there are quite a few acronyms hanging around the C-suite. As noted, Vishal is a CKO, or chief knowledge officer. In that role she works closely with the law firm’s CIO and CMO. That’s chief information officer and chief marketing officer.

Vishal: The CIO definitely offers, I would say … I’m going to use anatomical references here. The CIO definitely offers the backbone for the organization, so they’re not only making sure that the lights are kept running and the servers are humming and emails are sent the way they should be, with security and encryption and so on and so forth, and everything they do, in that sense, is mission critical. A lot of their work actually falls on the backend. A lot of times, I think, at the frontend, people don’t even know the extent of the work that’s going on.

In contrast, a CKO, a chief knowledge officer, does everything in the frontend space. So if they’re bringing in a new tool or a new technology, it is almost always to either bring the firm together. So, again, anatomically, if I reference it, it would be more like a nervous system, where you’re gluing everything together. You’re making sure all the connections are made, the dots are connected. Also, you can’t get away without making the main constituents actually use your tools. That’s the whole point. You cannot deploy it and then just hope that they will use it. You need to almost cultivate it, nurture it, make sure that they are paying attention, that they are using it the way it’s meant to.

There’s an element of adoption that is much more stronger, or an element of change management, I feel, that is much more stronger in a CKO’s job description, because you have to ensure that each user, each intended user, is using the new tool or is implementing the new process the way it’s meant to be. They may not get it the first time. There’s a marketing rule that says seven times you have to touch something to have enough brand recall. It’s similar. I think lawyers, paralegals are extremely busy. They have billable pressures. So in order to make a successful implementation, you absolutely need to make sure that they’re grabbing their attention and convincing them of why they should be using something, why they should change the way they’re doing something.

 

CKOs Must Educate Others

Chad Main: You just heard Vishal mention a couple of times that part of her job is educating others at her law firm at the tools and tech available to them. So I asked her to expand on that a little bit.

Vishal: The law firms make excellent cases, no pun intended, for the application of knowledge management. So one of the ways to explain to them how this works out is everybody is learning. Their entire job, their entire role as a professional rests on the idea of what they know, what they’ve learned. I don’t mean just what they learned in law school. Who knows what? Who knows whom? A lot of that is learned. It’s built upon. It’s interpreted in different ways. It’s managed, and it grows exponentially with their career. Some of it is lost to turnover. Not everybody grows up in the firm together forever. Some of it is just wasted, if you don’t capture it in any systematic way. Some will always be impossible to codify and share. But what we can share, and I’ve come to believe that a lot of the just-in-time knowledge that can be shared, can really, really change the game for them.

These are professionals who’ve spent a lifetime perfecting their craft. They get very specialized, very deep in a subject, and now they’re suddenly being challenged for even better service, quicker service, cheaper service, by the client. Knowledge management helps build that ecosystem of … We don’t expect partners to, on their own, take time, or lawyers, on their own, to take time and write down lessons learned from a specific case or some a-ha moment that they had. But as the knowledge officer in the firm, you can now build out the systems and bring them along in a way that makes it easier for them.

Under no circumstance can you build a system or create something for them that makes them cringe at the idea of knowledge sharing. So how do I educate them? A, by showing them that this is how other firms, other professional firms, have been doing it for decades now. By doing so, they’ve achieved better margins. They improve their not just marketplace value, but also wallet share with clients. Because the more you can codify this is what we do, this is what we’re known for, the more you can capitalize on that for future engagements, for future client relationships. In some ways, I think it’s not even rocket science. It can be uncomfortable, I will give you that, for law firms, for lawyers.

Chad Main: How so?

Vishal: So a lot of lawyers of the … I guess, trained many years ago, I think took the line, “Knowledge is power,” very seriously. I think, by that, they meant individual knowledge is power. My idea back to them is it is still power, but collective knowledge is even more powerful. So they are hesitant, sometimes, to put in the time or put in the effort or put in the mind share to help you with your knowledge platform, to endorse it, to participate in it fully themselves, largely because they’ve gotten this far without it, so they feel like they can continue to do so. But we don’t live in the same world that we did 20 years ago. Like I said, client expectations have moved. The marketplace dynamics have changed. So we really want to focus on what the marketplace looks like today and what works and what doesn’t work for today’s marketplace, for today’s client.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Jeff Kerr CEO of CaseFleet

Chad Main: Let’s take five away from our talk with Vishal, because now it’s time for our legal founder segment. This time around, we’re talking to Jeff Kerr. He’s the founder and CEO of CaseFleet, case chronology software for lawyers, and, as we will find out, software that’s used by others outside the legal realm. Jeff, thanks for being here today. Tell us a little bit about CaseFleet.

Jeff Kerr: Thanks, Chad. CaseFleet is a tool for creating chronologies of facts, and it’s designed for litigators and investigators, people who care about the facts and the evidence and who believe that mastering the facts of their case is the best way to win.

Chad Main: What was the inspiration for you to develop CaseFleet?

Jeff Kerr: So it goes back to my former legal practice. I practiced employment law in Atlanta, Georgia in a small firm setting, myself and my partner and a few associates. We didn’t have a whole bunch of paralegals to help us out on our cases, so we tried to leverage technology to do as much as we possibly could and to work our cases as well as we could without having a large team. I found that mastering the facts of my cases and knowing the documents and knowing the events and knowing the witnesses was the best way for me to get a good outcome for my clients [inaudible 00:16:26]. A lot of attorneys were a little bit sloppy about the facts, and if I just knew them well and was very faithful to the evidence, it really helped.

I found that the best way to do that was with the help of software of different kinds. Having a database, in particular, is essential if you want to create a real representation of the relationships between the legal elements in a case, the facts that you know, and the evidence that you’ll use to prove those facts. Those are three very important components to every case, and I think people underestimate the number of connections that there are, even in pretty simple cases. A database and a database-backed application is really the best way to organize that kind of information.

I wanted a tool to exist that I could not find anywhere, and I was somewhat proficient with technology myself, and I wanted that tool to exist so badly that I started writing code and developing some prototypes. I had so much fun doing that that I decided to make that my new job, and so I left practice of law in 2015 to work full-time on CaseFleet. That’s what I have been up to since then.

Chad Main: Did you write all the code and develop it yourself? Or did you hire a team of developers?

Jeff Kerr: I did not, by any means, write all of the code for CaseFleet. Throughout the entire history of the company, I’ve been working with developers and our CTO, who’s a computer science graduate from Georgia Tech, who understand best practices, and our professional coders, to create an extremely reliable and high-performing application. But because I have such a clear vision of the way I want certain features in the product to work and the different use cases that there are for a product like ours, it’s been very helpful for our team that I have been able to design and even implement some of the features, particularly on the front end of the application.

Chad Main: That’s cool. So I know CaseFleet’s got a bunch of different features. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

Jeff Kerr: The main feature in CaseFleet is what we call our facts page, and that is the place where you go to see what the facts are in each of your cases and to add new facts. Each fact can be linked to different people and businesses that are involved in the fact. A date can be assigned to it. It can be related to different legal issues that make it important or relevant in the context of the case. You can also attach evidence to the fact.

The second core feature is our document review feature. It really differentiates CaseFleet from a lot of other products that are in this field, in that document review is built in to the software. Our users, everyday, upload a great number of documents, which we index so that they can be searched for keywords, and also we allow those documents to be previewed within the same web browser that you use to access facts page and other parts of CaseFleet. That provides a huge benefit, because, as you review the documents, you’re able to extract facts from them in a very efficient way. So creating the chronology isn’t necessarily something where you’re having to write every single fact in place. You can build it from the documents themselves, such as depositions, interrogatory responses, and other documents that play a role in the case.

Chad Main: So, great. That sounds like a great tool. Who’s it for?

Jeff Kerr: We designed CaseFleet primarily for litigation attorneys, and litigation attorneys are the core of our user base. But we’ve found that it’s also been very useful for paralegals, litigation support folks, and other people on the litigation team, anyone who has in interest in reviewing the documents and ensuring that the facts of the case are mapped out in a really clear way. Another category of users consists of clients of lawyers who sometimes are the first people to buy the software and who want to organize their documents and different facts. We also have a good bit of use among investigators, investigative reporters, and people who provide expert testimonies for attorneys, such as forensic experts, forensic psychologists, medical records review folks. So it’s kind of a broad [inaudible 00:20:59] of uses that can be found for CaseFleet.

Chad Main: That’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought about that right off the top of my head, investigative reporters and expert witnesses. That is an interesting use of it. Well, great. I appreciate your time today, Jeff. Where can people find out more about CaseFleet?

Jeff Kerr: The best way to learn more is to visit our website, which is www.CaseFleet.com, and, from there, you can sign up for a demo or access a free trial of the software.

 

Do All Law Firms Need a CKO?

Chad Main: Let’s get back to our conversation with Vishal Agnihotri, the CKO for Hinshaw & Culbertson. So do all law firms need a CKO? Not surprisingly, Vishal thought that most firms could use one, or at least could start thinking about formalizing knowledge management protocols. She pointed out that, by doing so, it forces law firms and law departments to examine their internal processes, which in turn might encourage improvement of those processes and boost productivity and client service.

Vishal: Any law firm or any professional service firm should have a CKO, if they are ready to implement the changes that will come with that kind of investment, so it’s a mindset thing. I will say this: Profession firms are very adept at serving clients. They’re very good. They hone the craft of looking externally, whether you’re talking about marketing or in terms of service, service quality. They’re very externally focused. I think what they sometimes neglect to understand is that building out a knowledge management program internally moves some of that focus to our processes internally as well. That could also be very beneficial in the service of the client. It could improve client service quality. It could improve margins and productivity for the firm itself. So, yes, a law firm should hire a CKO or should at least have a knowledge management program led by someone who can bring about both new ideas, improved processes, but also, frankly, raise the base understanding of everybody in the firm of new ways of working.

In a professional service firm, whether it’s a law firm or an accounting firm or an architect’s firm, you will realize that the client expectations are evolving every single year. They keep moving the goal post. Even if we are not willing to share collective knowledge, at a minimum, somebody’s got to be responsible for raising the professional intelligence of the firm itself. I can’t imagine that somebody who’s on a billable track has the time and the wherewithal to do that, so you almost need somebody to come in from a different discipline, like knowledge management.

Knowledge management is a lot about change management, thinking about how this human-computer interaction is going to take place. It’s a lot about looking at the marketplace. Some of it may be even pontificating, like looking at various scenarios. What would work out best? So being a little bit of a futurist, looking out a couple of years at the minimum. So they should have a formal KM program leader, largely because nobody who’s billable will have the bandwidth to do that.

Chad Main: There is also a business case for the implementation of a knowledge management system. It makes clients happy but it makes attorneys more efficient.

Vishal: So you could work on a number of documents and save them on your desktop and never share them with anybody else, and best of luck when you’re looking for something.

Chad Main: So legal documents, contracts-

Vishal: Right.

Chad Main: … pleadings or whatever?

Vishal: Right, client documents, your work product. Now, for example, you have a need where you’re looking for something. It’d be wonderful if you were doing the exact same kind of document for the exact same kind of client for 30 years, but that does not usually happen. So every now and then, you will run into a need where you’re looking for something. You’re looking for a piece of information. You could go back to the phone culture and pick up the phone and call 20 people before you get an answer. Or if you had a system where all of the work product was in one place, you had a very good search system that would search across, you would actually save a lot of time, instead of manually trying to go gather this information. Now you may still end up finding a document or two that you think are worthy, and you may still end up picking up the phone to the partner that created that or that has his or her name on it, but that is much more different and much less compared to the hours upon hours you would spend otherwise piecing together the information.

Clients, I don’t think, want you to have that luxury. They’re not willing to pay for research, that kind that you would do 20, 30 years ago, when they know that there are better tools out there right now. So they’re expectation is that you bring your A game on and you’re finding what you need to find as quickly as possible. In terms of dollars and cents, A, it’s great for your reputation in the marketplace. B, if you’re actually doing it in lesser time, the client understands that you’re very efficient. It may not be billable time, but I doubt if you were to spend six hours finding something whether you would try to bill all of that time anyways. In effect, it makes you more efficient and less burned out, but also you’re keeping true to the essence of client quality, and hopefully you’re improving your margins. So if it is a flat fee arrangement, if it is one of those alternative fee arrangements, then you’ve actually improved margins if you have managed to use a better technology to find something in a shorter period of time, as opposed to going at it with sticks and stones.

 

Where Legal Departments and Law Firms Can Start to Implement Knowledge Management

Chad Main: So we ended our talk with a question I try to ask all my guests. Where can lawyers start to implement the ideas they heard discussed on this podcast?

Vishal: First of all, I think, from a content perspective, you definitely want to understand what qualifies as critical knowledge in a law firm. I mentioned this earlier, that it’s a very laborious process to try to codify every single item, so you do definitely want to just focus on the critical elements. There’s also an element of timeliness. Sometimes you just need an answer to this question. So, right now, a lot of law firms will have pardon the interruption emails, where somebody has a question and they send it around to everybody, and everybody else is popping in to give an answer.

But what you really want to do is employ better tools that can help with that. For example, one of the tools that I had rolled out in my last law firm, and we’re working on it at my current firm as well, is a social collaboration tool where lawyers are able to ask a question. Others who think they have an answer are able to answer, and that Q&A is almost on a Facebook-like or a LinkedIn group kind of interface. It has a picture next to the person who’s replying, and it creates, if you think about it, a searchable repository of question and answers, with zero effort from anybody on the KM team. Of course, we implement the system. We make sure we remind people. We teach people how to use it, et cetera. But once that is done, you’ve now created an auto-building auto-populating … As the day-to-day questions pop up, the Q&A repository is being built. That’s a very good place to get started, because it’s just-in-time kind of learning. It’s just-in-time kinds of Q&A. It is very simple to use. It does not require a ton of training, and it’s relatively inexpensive to actually put into a firm.

Other places to start, for example, the research and library services report in to me. A lot of times you’ll find that the resources that we have that the firm has paid for are not fully utilized. I know it sounds like common sense. Why would they not use something that they’re not already paying for? But a lot of times we do have tool fatigue or training fatigue even. People pay attention for when they need it, and then they forget about it. So one of the roles that I take very seriously is making sure that the awareness level of everything that we have, that we subscribe to, is very high within the firm. So you can do that with your good old fashioned newsletters. If you need to add incentives in there, you can. But a lot of times, people will come back and say, you know what, I had forgotten about that. I’m glad you brought that up. Or, you know what, I attended a training session when it first came out, but it’s been a year since I’ve used it. So even though that may feel like a very small effort, it actually has a lot of returns, because the firm’s already invested in that tool or in that resources.

You want to have a good, strong intranet. You definitely want to have a good portal that … in a very simplified way, a bulletin board that sits, electronically, where you can go hand everything from the firms PTO policy to other firm-wide information, office locations, et cetera, et cetera. But that portal can also be made … It can be more than just a pointer to different applications. Here, I want to schedule a conference room, or here I want to check out the events calendar. It can be more than that. It can be an operations portal. It can have more items on that. It can be an operational dashboard. You can have the lawyers looking at their billable hours, at their WIP, et cetera. You could have more insight on specific clients, on your top clients, et cetera. So there are many ways to use that kind of hub, if you will. That’s important as well, to move people to a central location, especially if you’re operating with a small team.

Most importantly, you want to use all of these tools, also, in the service of building camaraderie and rapport within the firm. I know this sounds a little bit like HR’s role, and it is. I think knowledge management, as I mentioned, works as the glue of bringing people together. You’ll find that people share more or share better or share easier if they trust each other. So in a lot of firms where you have a lot of lateral acquisition, partners being brought in at direct entry level, they may or may not feel comfortable right away. Even though this feels like soft, mushy stuff, believe it or not, putting focus on building the camaraderie within a firm, not just within the office, but within a firm, across practice groups, across offices, is actually key to having a strong knowledge sharing culture.

Chad Main: So that’s all we have for this episode. If you want to get a hold of Vishal, you can catch her on LinkedIn. Her name is spelled V-I-S-H-A-L A-G-N-I-H-O-T-R-I. If you want to get a hold of me, shoot me an email at CMain@Percipient.co. That’s C-M-A-I-N@Percipient.co. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms, like iTunes, Google, Stitcher, et cetera. If you like us, I hope you give us a good review. Thanks for listening. Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 11: Lucy Bassli on The Modern Legal Ecosystem and Unicorn Lawyers

In Episode 11 we talk to Lucy Bassli founder of InnoLegal Services and Chief Legal Strategist at Law Geex.

Lucy started her career in Big Law (at Davis Wright Tremaine) and ultimately landed a job in Microsoft’s legal department where she served as Assistant General Counsel. At Microsoft, Lucy was responsible for, among other things, the legal department’s procurement operations and contract management systems.

Lucy left Microsoft in 2017 and started InnoLegal Services–part law firm and part consultancy–where she helps law firms and law departments develop new ways to deliver and receive legal services.

In her role as Chief Legal Strategist for Law Geex, Lucy advises on the use of artificial intelligence in contracting, helps with product roadmaps, consults with corporate customers, and assists with the development of go-to-market strategies.

During our talk, Lucy explains who the players are in the modern legal ecosystem (regulators, industry groups, service providers, consumers of legal services and educators) and why to be really successful and efficient, all of them should work together.

She also explains what it means to be a unicorn lawyer–a lawyer that knows law, but also loves, understands and values process and technology.

We also talk about the “Big 4” entering the legal market and how law firm associates have a real opportunity to push for change.

Lucy can be found on LinkedIn and at lucy.bassli@innolegalservices.com.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Nehal Madhani of Alt Legal

In our legal founder segment, we talk to Nehal Madhani, founder of Alt Legal. A docketing system for intellectual property matters. You can follow Alt Legal on Twitter or contact Nehal at nehal@altlegal.com.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode

 
 
 
 
 
Lucy’s Articles on the Legal Ecosystem
 
 
Suffolk Law School’s Legal Tech Certificate Program
 
 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Transcript

Chad Main: For episode 11 we talked to attorney Lucy Basilli about the modern legal ecosystem and what it means to be a unicorn lawyer. Lucy recently left the legal department at Microsoft where she served as Associate General Counsel. When she left she founded a consultancy and law firm called InnoLegal Services. Lucy also splits her time with contract automation company, LawGeex, where she serves as Chief Legal Strategist.

Also in this episode for all you intellectual property lawyers, we talked to Nehal Madhani about the company he founded, Alt Legal, which is a docketing system for intellectual property matters.

Chad Main: I was pretty excited to land Lucy as a guest for the podcast. The first time I heard Lucy speak was last year at the CLOC annual conference. CLOC stands for Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. Among other events, it has an annual meeting once a year. For the last couple of years the annual US meeting has been in Las Vegas.

If you’re in legal operations or just want to learn more about legal ops, I highly recommend you looking into CLOC. When I heard Lucy speak at CLOC last year, she was still in-house at Microsoft where she was responsible for a bunch of things including implementation of the legal department’s contract management system. She was on the panel with a bunch of other legal ops bigwigs and the topic was on how to really change the way the legal industry does its work.

On the panel that day Lucy said something that really resonated with me. She said that for modern lawyers to really do a good job and deliver value to their clients they are going to have to embrace and work with others who are not lawyers, but have other very valuable and important skill sets.

Lucy Basilli [Excerpt from CLOC session] I think there’s another fundamental shift that needs to happen. I think those few practicing attorneys who are in here. Those of you who are recovering attorneys don’t hide it, we need to embrace all of the other professionals that are in this ecosystem, because without them we will not be able to move the dial.

That’s a fact. I did not research. I have no backing, but you’re going to have to trust me on this. It is a fact that we can not continue to function in our “lawyer versus non-lawyer” world … Who hates that word?

LEGAL ECOSYSTEM PLAYER 1: REGULATORS

Chad Main: What is the legal ecosystem? It’s a group of various key players that serve the needs of legal clients. Some of these players provide what we would consider traditional legal services. But others, they provide very important legal related ancillary services.

As in most industries, you gotta have regulations, and that’s where Lucy thinks the legal ecosystem starts. On a side note and by complete coincidence, Lucy is writing a series of article about the various players in the legal ecosystem. I’ll throw up a link to those articles on the episode page for this episode, episode 11, on TLPodcast.com [Links to articles above].

Lucy Basilli: I think there are a number of key players that together make up this ecosystem, which is very gently and sometimes not gently disrupting each other and forcing each other to change and try new things. If you just go along the cycle of ecosystem or spectrum, however you want to look at it, there are certain regulations, of course. There’s a regulatory body or sets of rules by which attorneys have to practice within the US. Let’s just focus on the US because if we go outside it becomes even more complex. But in the US we know we have 50 states and each of those 50 states has their sets of governing rules of how lawyers should practice. It just addresses lawyers. But what it does is create really the boundaries of the practice of law, and at the same time the confinement of the practice of law and keeping others out. That’s one key player.

LEGAL ECOSYSTEM PLAYER 2: INDUSTRY GROUPS

Chad Main: I didn’t really think about it until my conversation with Lucy, but another key group of players in this modern legal ecosystem are industry and trade groups like the one I mentioned before, CLOC.

Lucy Basilli: Another key player that is certainly becoming more and more notable and listened to I think, are the industry groups. Whether it is CLOC, the one you just referenced, or Association of Corporate Counsel. They have a legal operations group now. There’s more and more happening at the ABA and the Law Practice Management Division, or even parts of the Association of Corporate Counsel that aren’t legal operations. Of all of these, whether it’s legal operations as a general umbrella, or law practice management concepts, these professionals, or the attorneys who are taking on these new roles, they’re all coming together at a greater pace than ever before. They’re forcing conversations and sharing practices and ideas that is also overflowing into impacting the service providers that are part of the ecosystem.

LEGAL ECOSYSTEM PLAYER 3: SERVICE PROVIDERS

Chad Main: Now we get to the group of players in the legal ecosystem that are very near and dear to my heart, the service providers. Service providers can be law firms, they can be tech companies, or they can be alternative legal service providers. The first two are probably familiar to you and exactly what you think they are, but the latter, alternative legal service providers are sometimes known as legal process outsourcers or LPOs, are fairly new to the legal industry. They’re companies like the one I founded, Percipient, that work with lawyers and their clients to accomplish important tasks that may or may not be viewed as traditional legal work, but work that is without question, very important and necessary to getting modern legal work done.

Lucy Basilli: Shifting to the service providers there are a couple of key buckets that. One of course are the law firms. Two, will be the legal tech service providers. Three, will be the alternative or legal service providers, or legal process outsourcers, or legal services companies. There’s a lot of names, one of which I will disagree with. I hear law company out there a little bit now, and I don’t think they actually are doing law. I think they’re doing services, but I digress. Then, the last one, I’m kind of giving it its own category, although I’m not sure it does need one, but I think it’s starting to become one, are the Big Four. They are who they are. They don’t need naming or listing and they are a key player right now in the ecosystem.

LEGAL ECOSYSTEM PLAYER 4: LAW SCHOOLS

Chad Main: Last but not least in our tour of the legal ecosystem we run into the legal departments and law schools, the purchasers of legal services, and the educators of lawyers.

Lucy Basilli: Then of course, we have two other key constituents in the ecosystem. One being the corporate legal departments which are the procurers of the services from those groups that we just listed. Finally, we have of course law schools. As you can see this is a chicken and egg cycle. I don’t know where it starts, and we don’t know where it ends. But all of those players are impacting each other. Actually I just launched a series of articles through Thomson Reuters and their legal executive institute that looks a little bit deeper into each one of those, because it is a fascinating time we’re living in and all these new players working together, and some of the old players that are feeling the pressure to change how they play the game.

IMPACT OF BIG FOUR ON LEGAL MARKET

Chad Main: Before I got to Lucy’s take on why it’s important for all members of the legal ecosystem to work together, I wanted to talk to her a little more about the impact that the Big Four will have and are currently having on the legal market. As the Big Four try to claim their piece of the legal services pie, they’re a good example of how and why lawyers must work with other disciplines to provide true value to clients.

Lucy Basilli: They, like the legal services companies, or the alternative legal service providers, whatever is the best name for those growing companies, like them, they’re pushing the envelope on the definition of the practice of law, in the US for sure, because again, we have some boundaries that are pretty clear and finite, on one hand. On the other hand, there is a spectrum of work that lawyers do that many are arguing really isn’t the practice of law and that you don’t need a license to do. If you don’t need a license, you’re probably a lower cost resource, which is why the alternative legal providers have done so well in the last decade plus.

The Big Four have picked up on that very quickly, so they have their own legal services that they’re providing that are again, not the practice of law in the US, but very close. But in addition to that what they have, what their bread and butter has been for so long is fantastic management consulting skills. Something that the ALSPs are now doing and adding and have been developing. But the Big Four, that was inherent in who they are and what they’re good at. They already have contact into all of the major corporations. I do mean all. Every major corporation is using one of the Big Four for something.

Lucy Basilli: In addition to that, the amount of marketing resources that they have, and how they do their marketing goes well beyond any alternative legal service provider or law firm. Layered on top of that, are the resources that they spend on R&D. They have significant budgets for R&D. If you put all of that together, they’re finally approaching the sleeping giant of legal, that they hadn’t approached maybe for some time and it was safe for law firms to have the lion’s share of the work, as the ALSP started to grow and eat away at some of that law firm work. But more so, the ALSPs, alternative providers were really going after the in-house work that was still not being sent to firms but really bearing the in-house lawyers. That was their sweet spot. Law firms continued in their same sweet spot that’s been historic and the same for gosh, decades.

Lucy Basilli: In comes this new entrant that’s bringing in very highly skilled attorneys who actually aren’t practicing law, but have the benefits of being with a very reputable and prestigious firm, one of the Big Four, bringing in a variety of other skill sets from their consulting side of the house, from the solutions architects experts, throwing on top of that R&D resourcing, throwing on top of that good marketing. There’s this whole mix that they have put together that’s very natural to them, but it’s newer to legal. I see them as a really big threat. Their more direct threat in the US as they start to open up these kinds of special relationships with a law firm where they again, aren’t practicing law but they’re engaged with a law firm of some sort, and these other nuanced and creative corporate entities and structures, where they’re still within the rules of not getting into the unauthorized practice of law in the US, but finding ways to deliver a service that is very close. They are a uniquely positioned set of resources, each one, that bring together, I think, the best of what the ALSPs, the law firms and the legal tech providers have.

WHY ALL MEMBERS OF THE LEGAL ECOSYSTEM MUST WORK TOGETHER

Chad Main: Now that we’ve discussed all the various players in the legal ecosystem we get to the “Why”. Why they should all want to and why they should work together. As Lucy explains, it boils down to increasing the value lawyers provide their clients, bettering the client experience, helping clients further business goals based on the legal advice they receive from their lawyers, and also it helps lawyers and clients actually implement the legal advice they receive from lawyers. It’s this latter part, the implementation where a lot of other players for legal ecosystem can really help attorneys.

Lucy Basilli: Law firm lawyers, they need to expand their horizons of the value that they’re offering. At the end of the day, the value can’t continue to be, that I’m the best litigator, or I’m the best negotiator of contracts, or you name it, regulatory expert, because there’s more needed from the in-house corporate legal departments than that anymore. The complexities that companies are dealing with and the complexities of then the legal teams in-house are dealing with require different sets of skill beyond just the traditional legal subject matter experts.

Lucy Basilli: Receiving legal advice alone isn’t enough to solve the problem that the in-house legal team is dealing with. For example, in a regulatory environment, simply saying, yes, GDPR is coming and here it is, and here’s an 80 page memo on GDPR. That gets handed off from a law firm at a very high price point to an in-house legal team. The in-house legal team then has to figure out, what does this mean for their business, for their corporation, who’s their main and only client?

That disconnect is no longer going to be acceptable going forward as the pressure on the in-house team to move at a faster pace, where they’re not going to have necessarily the time to continue to assess and debate the pure legal concepts, but really, it’s all about applying it to a business goal. It’s the business that needs to accomplish something, and without the help of the business and all of the different skill sets that business brings with them, for the lawyer, it’s going to be very hard to really connect between the great legal advice, expensive legal advice they receive from a law firm, and then the business goal, that they’re there to serve at the company at which they work.

Lucy Basilli: Why are these other professionals necessary? Two reasons. One, other types of skill sets are needed to help the engagement between the law firms and the in-house legal departments be more effective. That’s the how. That is moving away from the “ping-pong” of: I have a question. I’m going to send it to a firm. The firm’s going to answer my question, and they’ll send me a bill. I’m going to pay the bill and then we’re done.

That engagement, that back and forth can only be improved with the help of people who understand how to use smarter, better, collaboration tools, with people who can really dive into that process of engaging each other and help optimize the process to move faster, to move smoother, to access information and data more readily so that you’re not waiting. To acknowledge that you can play a big role, but again, you need people who can bring to light some of these different options, because the attorney’s job is still to deliver that legal advice from the law firm.

Lucy Basilli: They don’t need to be process experts. They don’t need to be green belts in Six Sigma. They don’t need to know how to architect solutions, but they need to know when to bring in all those people who know how to do that other stuff. Let’s just call it “other stuff” for lack of a better word because that’s the only way they will improve and enhance the engagement experience with the in-house team that’s moving at a faster pace than every before, and that pace will only get faster. The pace is never as slow as it is today because it’ll always continue to get faster. That’s one main reason that you need all these other professionals, is the how of the engagement has got to evolve and become more modern, faster, more efficient, more immediate access to information, and immediate access to data and answers.

Lucy Basilli: The other end of the spectrum, why you need these other professionals is really, goes to the core of what is being delivered. That legal advice then needs to be consumed in a business setting. Engaging people who have experience with the running of the business itself, of the company, of the corporation, of that client can really help move that advice from again, a nice piece of legal theory, and accurate legal theory into something actionable. Often times it’s then the lawyers in-house that are finding that they need to engage other professionals, and maybe it’s from their “client group” in the business or maybe there are people within the legal department that have now been brought in who are more closely connected to the business itself.

HOW TO GET BUY IN FOR CHANGING THE WAY LEGAL WORK IS DONE

Chad Main: Let’s move away from the why and talk about a different how. How you get buy-in, either at your law firm, or at your corporate law department. You were at Microsoft for a longtime. You instituted some of these changes there. How did you do it? What was your experience there?

Lucy Basilli: I’m a big fan of small wins along the way. It’s great to get supporters, sponsors and fans along the way. In my case, my experience was that when I could demonstrate a value for that attorney for whose job I’m trying to change, or impact, influence, in a positive way I hope, it’s to work with them in a way that they see that value and then become part of the solution. My specific experience was in contracting. Every company has contracts. Every company has too many. This is a job security for every transactional lawyer. There’s always going to be contracts. How do we, as a company, no matter where you are in-house, how do you do them a little bit faster, a little bit more efficient? How do you take some smart risks?

Lucy Basilli: What I realized is, to the extent of course I had control of that work, it was very easy, because I just had to convince myself. But to the extent that I was working with and collaborating with other attorneys across the department, it was critical to show them the value and the benefits of embracing the change. They weren’t the ones that had to engage with different professionals and incorporate different skill sets into their day job. I was doing that on their behalf. I just needed to get their buy-in. The best way is to show real value. Usually the value for most attorneys is of course, time savings. Everybody’s buried. That’s the first complaint you hear. What we underestimate is the quiet wave of resistance from those attorneys who like being buried. They like having the work they have on their desk. They feel comfortable with it. Changing it by encouraging them to move to more complicated work actually may not be perceived as a value-add.

Lucy Basilli: On the one hand, you’re working to demonstrate the value and get people to come along. On the other hand, you have to really understand and be certain that what you perceive as value is also perceived as value by the person with whom you’re trying to convince. I think that functioning on assumptions or presumptions can be a little bit dangerous. That’s the flip side of that coin. But that’s it. he best answer is get sponsors and believers to come along with you, early on by identifying wins, by demonstrating the change, by demonstrating the value of using these alternative sets of skills that are out there and available.

LEGAL FOUNDER SEGMENT: NEHAL MADHANI OF ALT LEGAL

Chad Main: We’re going to step away from our chat with Lucy for just a few minutes. It’s now time for the segment where we sit down and talk with a legal founder. Today we’re talking to Nehal Madhani, the founder of Alt Legal. If you work in a legal practice that does anything with intellectual property, like with trademarks or patents, Alt Legal just may be an app you want to check out.

Nehal, thanks for being with us today. Tell us a little bit about Alt Legal.

Nehal Madhani: Sure. Alt Legal is cloud-based IP docketing software. For those who aren’t IP lawyers, what we do is we help law firms and in-house legal departments create new IP filings by getting all their information needed for them, automatically create them on government filing websites, and then the worst and most tedious part for any IP lawyer is tracking these deadlines. Our software will automatically connect to government databases, identify their filings and then calculate their filing deadlines for them, so they don’t have to do things manually anymore.

Chad Main: It connects directly to the attorney’s calendars, is that right?

Nehal Madhani: That’s right. It will take all that information, once we calculate these deadlines, we’ll send them alerts automatically by email. We’ll tell them about any changes that happened to their IP filings, and then we’ll take all that information and plug it into their calendars as well. For a lot of IP professionals, whether your in-house or at a law firm, it essentially provides some of the functionality that would traditionally be done by a docketing clerk or IP paralegal. For the docketing clerks and IP paralegals, they don’t have to do input data manually and worry about mistyping a four, when it was supposed to be a three, anything like that. It’s something that’s made possible with data, electronic filings and then smart algorithms.

Chad Main: I know in a prior life you were actually a practicing attorney, but before we started today we were talking a little bit. Come to find out, the inspiration for Alt Legal was not from your practice of law but something else. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Nehal Madhani: Yeah, absolutely. I started my legal career at Kirkland & Ellis in the New York City office, and having graduated law school in 2009, there weren’t too many other opportunities available, so I started in the restructuring group at Kirkland. I did Chapter 11 reorgs, and in 2009 there was plenty of it to go around. Did that for about five years. I last started building one tech business which was at the time a marketplace connecting lawyers and businesses together so that they could find each other and work together with less friction in that transition.

Along the way I ended up doing my own IP work, and I found that whole process to be so cumbersome, so manual, so rife with errors, that I shutdown the legal marketplace, recruited the IP paralegal to join me, and the two of us started building IP docketing software. It wasn’t something I’d traditionally known about, but once I saw how things were being done it just seemed ripe for automation, and ripe for using data.

Chad Main: I think I saw something too that you actually taught yourself to code. Is the right?

Nehal Madhani: I did. Back in 2013, [the movie] The Social Network had just come out. Everyone with any kind of business mindset thought all they needed was a technical guy or gal and they could just build the next Facebook or any billion dollar business. I wasn’t able to really recruit anyone, so more out of necessity I just said, if I’m going to be building a tech business I have to know the fundamentals. I have to be able to do this myself, so read a lot of online tutorials, and just started building, and probably hit my head on the desk quite a few times. Eventually it all came together.

Chad Main: Kudos to you. That’s great. Tell us, who is Alt Legal for? It looks like it’s for pretty much any IP attorney out there. Is that right?

Nehal Madhani: That’s right. Our customers today range from solos to AmLaw firms from privately held companies to some of the largest publicly traded corporations in the country. We’ve been able to serve all ends of the market, but for us, a lot of our outreach, a lot of our focus is on small organizations just because it’s an easier sales process. But really, any IP attorney that is managing a good number of trademarks would really benefit from our software, make sure that they don’t miss any deadlines, subject themselves to malpractice, or worse, lose the trademark.

Chad Main: Last but not least, tell everybody where they can learn more about Alt Legal.

Nehal Madhani: You can find us at www.AltLegal.com. You can engage with our team right there through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter @AltLegalHQ, and reach me at Nahal@altlegal.com.

INNOLEGAL SERVICES

Chad Main: Okay. Let’s get back to our conversation with Lucy Basilli.

As noted at the beginning of the podcast, Lucy recently left her position in the legal department of Microsoft and launched InnoLegal Services. To use modern parlance, she pivoted from one position in legal ecosystem to another, from in-house lawyer or consumer legal services to an advisor to legal departments and lawyers in how they should deliver and consume legal services.

Lucy Basilli: It’s a law firm and consultancy. Interestingly enough, the reaction is quite different depending on who I say that to. On the one hand attorneys are immediately perplexed. Well, which one is it? I say, both. Well, how? Very simple. Under the umbrella of a law firm I could provide all the consulting services I want, but the reverse is absolutely not true, number one. Number two, perception. In dealing with attorneys it’s very important that they understand that I am not a recovering lawyer who’s moved from the practice of law into legal operations. Because the minute in an attorney’s mind that shift has happened, I am now outside of the box. I’m in a different bucket. That goes back to my original concept of this whole lawyer, non lawyer. It’s interesting and that is a 100% proven reaction that attorneys go through.

Lucy Basilli: As I was thinking about the work I want to do, which is definitely consulting with law firms and legal departments on how they either deliver or receive legal services, there is an aspect of it where I want to provide what is a traditional kind of legal advisory role, legal advice, especially when it comes to risk. So much of change in the legal ecosystem has to do with attorneys accepting risk, understanding risk, taking risks, being comfortable with risks, and that is a very bright line for most attorneys of whom they’ll entrust to provide them guidance on that. By continuing to be a practicing attorney with a law firm, I can provide legal advice to the extent it enables a better consultancy experience for the client I’m dealing with.

Chad Main: I had to ask Lucy, what was her motivation for leaving the security of a very coveted position in the legal department of one of the world’s largest tech companies for the great unknown of entrepreneurship? She had a great answer. It’s because she’s a unicorn lawyer.

Lucy Basilli: At a metaphysical level it was wow, I’ve been doing this thing for a long time. I’m super comfortable. I love what I do. I love my company. But, is there another calling for me? It was very kind of go through this thing in your career stage in life, on the one hand. On the other hand I was seeing a need in the industry for people like me. I’m going to say it. These freakish lawyers, where I’m going to loving refer to us as unicorns. We’re these mystical lawyer creatures who love the practice of law, love being an attorney, but really appreciate and enjoy the operational aspects. Again, the how of being an attorney. If I’m tasked with handling hundreds or thousands of contracts, as a lawyer, negotiating them, having a team of people who negotiate those, why wouldn’t I want to do it in a more creative, efficient way, where I optimize on process and I use technology, and I think about systems? I think for me that combination of both is what I enjoyed the most in my job. At some point it felt like others needed that same help.

LawGeex

Chad Main: After leaving Microsoft, Lucy actually only spends part of her time on InnoLegal Services. Another reason she left Microsoft is because she wanted to get involved in the excitement and challenges of working for a startup. When she’s not consulting others on legal ops, she serves as Chief Legal Strategist for LawGeex, a legal tech company that helps out with contract review automation.

Lucy Basilli: As part of my metaphysical, or philosophical search for the next career move, I really had those desires to work in the startup environment. I felt like that was an energy that I was missing and really needed to experience in my career, at some point. So, enter LawGeex that was just right up my alley, using the latest artificial intelligence and automating contract review, which is my day job, reviewing contracts and managing a team of humans that did that. It just seemed, what an amazing, logical connection for me. Then, in talking with them, we realized that was the right combination of time and skills was for me to help them at this more higher level, strategic role where I can help influence their marketing strategy, their sales strategy, their product roadmap, help engage with customers. Help really consult with customers too because as we’re noticing, and as you know, I’m sure all the unicorn lawyers know, gotta understand your people and your processes before you start getting into technology. I liked being able to play that role as well, and help provide some best practice and tips to their customer.

YOUNG LAWYERS MUST DRIVE CHANGE

Chad Main: As I was preparing for my interview with Lucy I read a bunch of articles she wrote and listened to a couple of other podcasts she did. In one of those podcasts, she discussed her belief that if legal is really going to change, it’s incumbent on younger lawyers to help drive this change. I wanted to ask her about it.

Lucy Basilli: The change that is happening in the legal industry, has got to come from the up and coming future leaders of legal. There are a lot of current leaders who understand that something’s brewing around them, but they’re also quite comfortable. They’re comfortable financially. We see their reports, right? We see the Am Law reports. The incentive to change is certainly not a financial incentive. The only incentive to change right now is really coming from the clients, and to the extent the clients are demanding change. For anybody who’s looking at the future coming their way, the associates, the junior partners are the ones who are going to be carrying this, their firm, their organizations. The demand of change from their clients plus with just the evolution of the legal services market, because of all these other players that I mentioned before, the law firm is going to have to look different.

Lucy Basilli: I am looking to these associates who are also graduating at a time they’re used to instant access to information. They’re used to different work-life balance. They have different career goals than becoming the next big partner in the big corner office. They’re used to of course, technology. It’s in every part of their lives. They get to a law firm, and it just feels like a step back in time still. I really do feel like it’s going to be the future leaders, let’s call them, because I don’t like calling it generational. But it’s really the future leaders of the firms that I think need to show that initiative. It’s hard, but they need to share their ideas. They have them. I just hope they’re not shying away from sharing them.

Chad Main: I don’t want to sound too cynical, but they will receive pushback from other lawyers, other partners, other lawyers at the firm. You and I both practiced in law firms. What is your advice to an associate that has an idea. Hey, let’s improve our process to handle discovery, or handle this transactional matter? What is your advice to them to try to change people’s minds?

Lucy Basilli: My advice is simple. It’s find the partner who’s going to listen. Find the one that when you mention this, don’t roll their eyes, don’t blow you off, don’t ignore you. They’re out there. I promise that at every firm there is somebody like that, and maybe a group of people like that, so you have to find them. Don’t waste your breath trying to convince somebody who isn’t interested. You can tell pretty quickly. They’re out there. You just have to do a little bit of homework and it may not be in your own practice group. It may not be the people you engage with on a daily basis, but once you find somebody like that, turn them into a champion, and pitch something. Pitch an idea. Even better so, and this is a harder one for associates to do, but to the extent they have really good direct client engagement and client contact, talk about it with a client.

SUFFOLK LAW SCHOOL LEGAL TECH CERTIFICATE PROGRAM

Chad Main: If you haven’t figured out by now, Lucy has vast knowledge and experience with legal service delivery, and is more than willing to share it with others. In fact, I’ve got good news for you if you want her to share it with you directly. She’s an instructor at the Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology at Suffolk University Law School. A couple episodes ago I talked to the head of that program at Suffolk, Gabriel Teninbaum, about all the cool stuff they’re doing there. If you want to learn more about this school and the program, I highly recommend you give that interview a listen. Anyways, let’s hear from Lucy about what she’ll be teaching there.

Lucy Basilli: I’m teaching an overview of legal operations. What that means is really dissecting it into … It’s 10 modules and each module addresses one of the key capabilities, or functions that really are all under the umbrella of legal ops. Legal ops is such a big topic and it gets confused where yes, it’s a profession or a career, but really it’s just such a combination of so many different pieces. At every company it looks different, because it depends on what they’re interested in. For example, one module is on spend management. Another module will be on project management. It’s a high level overview of each one. It’s intended really for people who aren’t in legal ops, but hopefully for some of the curious lawyers out there who are wondering, what is all this about, because they’re hearing about it, I’m sure in the legal news.

Chad Main: Well, it sounds like it would be well worth taking the class. Lucy, appreciate your time. If people want to get a hold of you, how do they do so?

Lucy Basilli: The easiest thing is probably to look me up on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email, Lucy.Basilli@Innolegalservices.com, or LinkedIn is always great as well.

Chad Main: Well, that’s a wrap. We hope you liked it. If you want to subscribe, you can check us out on pretty much any major podcasting platform such as iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, etcetera, etcetera. If you like us enough, maybe even give us a five star rating. If you want to get ahold of me, you can shoot me an email at cmain@Percipient.co. That’s cmain@Percipient.co. Thanks again for listening. We hope you tune in next time. This has been another episode of Technically Legal.

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Episode 6: D. Casey Flaherty on Legal Tech Competency, Legal Ops and Client Driven Change

For Episode 6, we sat down with D. Casey Flaherty at the Legal Tech conference in New York City. 

Casey talked about a few things: how many lawyers struggle to master everyday technology, his experience as corporate counsel and the efforts he took in that role to improve the way company lawyers did their jobs. But, a good chunk of the conversation focused on Casey’s belief that inefficiencies in legal service delivery will not change until clients demand change.

Casey is a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas, a legal tech assessment and training tool that helps lawyers and their staff master the basic technology tools they use every day such as Word, Excel and the like. 

Prior to launching Procertas and his legal ops consulting practice, Casey was corporate counsel for Kia Motors and got his start as a law firm associate with Holland and Knight.

Casey is also an excellent and prolific writer.  He writes frequently for 3 Geeks and a Law Blog and is the author of “Unless you Ask”  A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships.

You can find Casey on Twitter @dcaseyf

In Episode 6, we also talk to Haley Altman, the founder of Doxly.  A legal transaction management platform used by transactional and M&A lawyers to stay organized when they are working on and closing deals.

Find Haley and Doxly on Twitter: @haley_altman@doxlyapp

Episode Credits:

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Photo above by Seth Schwiet on Unsplash

 

Podcast Transcript:

Chad Main: I’m Chad Main, and this is Technically Legal, a podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law. Each week we’ll talk to a mover and shaker from the legal and technology fields, we’ll learn a little bit about them, what they’ve been up to, and hopefully get a couple real world tips that lawyers can use to integrate technology into their legal practices.

For this episode, I sit down with Casey Flaherty. He’s a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas, that’s a technology assessment tool that helps lawyers and their staff master commonly used technology products.

Before Casey started his consulting practice and launched Procertas, he worked in-house in the legal department at Kia Motors. It was there at Kia where Casey got his inspiration to create his technology assessment tool after he figured out that some of the lawyers he hired may not be that great with technology.

But even before that, Casey had figured out that law firms weren’t bastions of technological and business efficiency, because right out of law school he worked as an associate at big law.

Casey Flaherty: Took me about a week maybe, less, to look around this big law firm and say, “This is nuts.” And the, “This is nuts,” there’s cognitive dissonance because the people were amazing. The partners in particular were brilliant and hardworking and clearly provided tremendous value to their clients. But the support system, the apparatus, the way that expertise was leveraged through process and technology seemed fundamentally broken to me. And I couldn’t believe that clients were paying for it. And then I became a client.

Chad Main: After a few years at big law, Casey landed his job at Kia Motors. But based on his experience at the law firm, he had some ideas about how to tweak the way legal work was done for the company. He looked for places to cut out waste out of the way legal work was done and make it more lean. He also wanted to leverage his position as client to influence the way outside counsel for Kia did its work or, as he explains it, he knew what he wasn’t going to pay for.

Casey Flaherty: And I took with me this idea that there were lots of things that I didn’t want to pay for, but I also didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t think lawyers are completely fungible. I don’t think that everything lawyers do can be commoditized. I don’t think that they’re going to be placed by robots any time soon.

And so the question became how do you get what’s valuable without the waste? How do you make it more lean, and how do you drive changes and behavior as a client? And so I brought in a lot of concepts from supply-chain management and particular site visits. I would go out to my law firms and watch them work and talked to them about how they could work differently and should work differently on my projects. And then of course I would go back because that kind of approach requires sustained attention.

 

Casey Develops a Technology Assessment  for Lawyers

Chad Main: One of the things Casey did to create efficiency and drive change into the behavior of Kia’s outside counsel was to develop a technology assessment that he required Kia lawyers to take and pass.

Casey Flaherty: And I got some publicity for that. And the publicity focused on one important, but controversial aspect, and that is that lawyers suck at Word, Excel, and PDF, that they spend most of their time in these core technologies, and they’re not good at using them. And again, not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because they’ve never learned. And people were incredulous when I said that. In particular, relationship partners were incredulous when I said that. And so it wasn’t enough for me to say it, I had to prove it. So I created an assessment, a bunch of tasks that we had paid for that I could complete in 20 minutes. And it took the average lawyer or paralegal over two and a half hours.

Chad Main: Not surprisingly, Casey got some pushback from his attorneys about his technology competence assessment. “We’re lawyers,” they said. “We’re not clerical workers. We’ve got assistants to do this work. These software skills you want us to learn, that’s not real lawyering.”

Casey Flaherty: If it affects quality, speed, cost, or consistency, it’s real enough to me or, more glibly, if it shows up on the bill, it’s real enough. What you’re really saying is that’s not where the lawyers add the most value. On this, we completely agree, which is why it’s so tragic that they waste so much time doing it.

And then you get to the next objection, “Oh, well, that’s what we have secretaries for.” There are a few problems there. Number one, law firms, even the biggest law firms, have been laying off secretaries for years. I collect press releases from law firms where they cite the fact that lawyers are using technology as the reason for their layoffs, that, oh, the lawyers are using technology. But to say that, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean they’re using it well.

Number two, that assumes that the secretaries know what they’re doing. They don’t. I test them. They haven’t had the training either. And this isn’t just about cost, it’s about overall speed, quality, and consistency. And you, as a lawyer, are responsible, 5.1 and 5.3 over work you delegate. It still has to be done competently. And using technology properly is not just about cost. It’s about competence. It’s about getting the right work product out in the right amount of time. And so the delegation dodge, and I’ve written about the delegation dodge, didn’t work with me, still doesn’t, and it’s becoming less and less true over time.

 

Procertas Legal Consulting is Born

Chad Main: As mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, Casey ultimately left Kia Motors and watched his legal ops consulting practice. He also decided to make his technology assessment tool available to everyone and launch Procertas. If you want to learn more about Procertas, you can go to procertas.com or just Google Casey Flaherty, and information about it will come up. I’ll also post a link to it in the show notes for Casey’s episode page, and you can check that out at tlpodcast.com.

Casey Flaherty: What I expect my legacy to be in the legal space is integrating basic tech training into our core curriculum. At law schools, in CLE, in law firm training programs, law department training programs, government organizations, I think we need to take seriously the fact that to be proficient with modern technology, you still need to train. And it doesn’t matter how smart you are

Our technology is not intuitive once you get past the basics, and to do what we do, you have to get past the basics. And so that’s one thing we did. I’ve automated the assessment. I’ve also automated the training around it to create a competence-based learning platform. The idea being that you take a test that identifies what you know and what you don’t. Both matter. What you know means that you test out of training you do not need because we don’t want to waste your time. And then what you don’t is probably more important because people don’t know what they don’t know. Then we have to move in to fill their gaps, the now identified gaps in their knowledge. And so I’ve created that competence-based learning platform.

I don’t want to say it’s my passion because, frankly, I get very bored talking about Word. I feel like I’ve gotten all this credit for a statement of the blindingly obvious. And yet persistence matters to perception. You have to repeat over and over for the message to penetrate. And so I’m willing to do that, and so that’s my evangelism.

Chad Main: As you can tell, Casey’s pretty passionate about Procertas and its aim of helping lawyers master the software they use every day. But Casey’s real expertise lies in his legal operations consulting practice. It’s there where he helps law firms and corporate legal departments improve the way they deliver legal services.

Casey Flaherty: What puts food on the table and where I get excited is I also do legal operations consulting because again, the legal tech assessment was small piece of what I was looking at. I think holistically about legal service delivery. So the use of data and analytics, automation, knowledge management, project management, process re-engineering, and that is something I’m really passionate about. And so I do legal operations consulting for large corporations and law firms.

Chad Main: And what type of tasks … Let’s say, multinational corporation hires you. What kind of consulting, what kind of work do you do for them specifically?

Casey Flaherty: Well, I’ve created legal operations departments, so gone in and help them set up an actual legal ops function. Or I’ll take on a very specific task like a convergence initiative.

Chad Main: Convergence is?

Casey Flaherty: Yeah, so let’s say they have 300 law firms, and that’s way too many, it’s an administrative burden. Their spend is too diffused for them to leverage it. They’re not getting any kinds of economies of scale. I will help them winnow down the number of firms they use, and then negotiate the arrangements with those firms and also setup an outside counsel management program.

Chad Main: Based on his experience both as a law firm lawyer and in-house as corporate counsel, Casey has developed a philosophy on which much of his consulting practice is based. As alluded to earlier, Casey’s a firm believer that improvement into the way legal work is done ultimately must be driven by the client. In fact, he believes it’s the responsibility of legal clients to push for this change. And if they don’t, they’re not doing their job.

Casey Flaherty: One of the big questions I have when it comes to external resources is how do we weave continuous improvement into the fabric of the relationship. And a lot of that comes from the clients. Clients are urgency-drivers and in many ways have abdicated their responsibilities to channel captains and have decided not to concern themselves with how work gets done. Just what is the work and how much are we going to pay for it? And you lose a lot of the incentives to change when you abdicate that responsibility. And so I want to reinsert the client into active management of how work gets done.

 

Clients Must Drive Change in the Legal Industry

Chad Main: So if Casey is right, if it really is a corporate legal client’s responsibility to push for change in the way legal services are delivered, how does he suggest they do this? He says they do by becoming more sophisticated in the way they purchase legal services, and that starts with understanding how supply chains work. However, he is also very quick to point out that just hiring more lawyers and throwing more bodies at the problem is not the answer.

Casey Flaherty: As much as we want to fight it, corporate law departments need to become sophisticated consumers of legal services. And to do that, they really need to understand how supply chains work, how to manage one, and how to put together a true legal value chain. And we haven’t done that. Instead, faced with the more for less conundrum, which in-house departments do face, we’ve been on a two-decade long hiring binge. It’s very simple math. It’s cheaper to bring a lawyer in-house than to pay them through a law firm. But it’s also just labor market arbitrage. You’re now paying the same lawyers to do the same work the same way. And you end up replicating many of the pathologies of law firms. And yes, it’s at a lower cost per capita, but it’s not sustainable. You can’t keep throwing bodies at the problem forever. Not only that, it’s much harder to fire an in-house lawyer than it is to switch law firms.

And so I am at a high level of proponent of insourcing, at least from the perspective of the mid-’90s and later. We needed to achieve a certain amount of scale so that we could have specialization and sophistication within law departments. It’s not that all insourcing is bad, but I think in many respects it’s gone too far. At this point, there are more in-house counsel in the United States than there are in the domestic offices of the Am Law 200. Law departments, one lawyer or more, are responsible for the purchase of 55% of all legal services in the United States. And law departments have grown at seven and half times the rate of law firms since the late ’90s.

Chad Main: When you say you think insourcing has gone too far, do you mean just the sheer numbers or is it issue with the work that’s being done maybe would be better suited for the law firm or some other legal service provider?

Casey Flaherty: So the answer is yes to both. So I think that there are other organizations that should be better suited to it, organizations that specialize in it, organizations that can achieve economies of scale, organization that can focus on that kind of work. But I also just think there are too many bodies, period. What we like to frame as a cost problem in legal, and I have to credit Professor Bill Henderson for this insight, in fact many insights, but what we frame as a cost problem in legal is truly a productivity problem. And we haven’t spent enough time thinking about and working on productivity. Again, how do we leverage expertise through process and technology? Almost everything has been how do we find cheaper labor, but the demand for legal services is going to continue to increase, and by the way, as it should.

Lawyers are very valuable and as the economy becomes more complex, legal insight becomes more important. So lawyers are complexity engineers. You can look up Dan Katz on that one. Some create complexity, the rest of us solve for complexity. And as the world economy grows larger and more intertwined, it becomes more complex. And so legal services become more important, but you can’t just keep adding lawyers forever. There is still this more-for-less conundrum, and that’s not a cost conundrum. It’s a productivity conundrum.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Haley Altman of Doxly

Chad Main: Let’s hit the pause button for a minute on our talk with Casey. It’s now time for our segment where I sit down a legal tech founder. Today we talked to Haley Altman, she’s the founder at Doxly. That’s a SaaS-based platform that deal lawyers can use to stay organized when they’re working on and closing deals. It’s a great tool for M&A lawyers.

Tell us a little bit about Doxly.

Haley Altman: Well, thank you for having me, Chad. Doxly is a legal transaction management platform. We are looking to help attorneys close deals in an efficient, streamlined process that gives them extra control and visibility into these very key and important transactions.

Chad Main: And what motivated you to create Doxly?

Haley Altman: Yeah. So I’ve been a transactional attorney for over 10 years. I was an attorney at Wilson Sonsini in Palo Alto and at Ice Miller in Indianapolis. And I started a summer clerk, was an associate working with all these different, complicated transactions, and then trying to kind of develop my own business as well. How do you bring on clients, how do you effectively work with them? And as I worked on really kind of generating this new business and managing all the transactions that I was already on, it just really kind of came to light that we all practice in a very similar way. We all use these closing checklists as the roadmap for the transactions, all the items, documents that need to be negotiated and signed, and tasks that need to be completed. And they’re kept in Word documents and Excel checklists. And so what I wanted to do was give attorneys more visibility into what they’re doing, take away some of those administrative challenges, and really help you focus on doing the high-value legal work that I enjoyed doing.

So I just started looking into what technology was out there, what could we do to improve the transaction process. And after spending about a year and a half looking into it, not finding anything that I thought really met the needs of the market, I really wanted to kind of jump in and build company that gave attorneys the ability to practice and do what they love.

Chad Main: Now when you say you wanted to create a tool that helps attorneys practice and do what they love, how specifically does Doxly do that? Does it free up time? Does it help them remind the tasks?

Haley Altman: Yeah, so with Doxly what we’ve really done is take a kind of a fresh look at kind of managing the transaction process, so taking these checklists that are in Word document that have to be constantly updated throughout the transaction process, we wanted to give people greater visibility. So finding ways to get them the information they needed in a way that didn’t require the administrative side of keeping everything up to date. Then on the closing process, we wanted to take all those pieces that are incredibly tedious, yet insanely important: drafting the signature pages, making sure that the blocks look perfect, that you’ve got pages created for every signer. We wanted to do that for you so that you can focus on the key issues that need to be resolved. You know, the signature process is incredibly important. You don’t want to close a deal and be missing a signature page. You don’t want to take too long getting the signature pages out and collected, that the deal doesn’t close on-time. The value that we bring to the transactions is all of the key negotiating that we do.

We advocate for our client, we think of all the different ways that we can help them achieve their position through this transaction. These are usually incredibly important transactions. You’re helping a company get money so that they can hire employees and bring a vision to life, or you’re helping a company that has grown, secure an exit, or add on another piece that they need to kind of continue to grow their business. And these are all very time-sensitive. And so the administrative side of it can be an incredible burden, but it’s critical at the end of a deal to have every document, the exact form of document that’s been approved by the parties with every single signature page, so that when everyone moves forward, they can do so with the confidence and security that everything has been done correctly.

Chad Main: Well, Haley, it’s a cool product. Thanks for your time today, and how can people find you?

Haley Altman: They can go to our website, www.doxly.com.

 

Change Starts at the General Counsel’s Office

Chad Main: Okay. Let’s get back to our talk with with Casey. From the first part of the interview, it should be pretty clear that Casey doesn’t believe much is going to change in the way legal work is handled, unless the buying habits of clients change. So I asked Casey if the consumption of legal services has to change, where does this change have to start? He answered very quickly. He said, “At the top, at the general counsel’s office.” He also says it starts with improving the processes behind the legal work and the training of those involved.

Casey Flaherty: I would start in the General Counsel’s office with the people who are in charge of now large groups of lawyers delivering legal services internally and externally, and get them to stop subscribing to the lawyer theory of value, which posits that we solve problems one smart lawyer at a time. And if that one smart lawyer can’t do it, then we add another one. And then we keep adding lawyers until we have enough lawyers to solve the problem. And it’s not just about saying, “Oh, technology will solve it.” Technology’s nice, technology is a piece of the puzzle, but you really need to have an integrated view of people, process, and technology, and the way that you can embed expertise into your systems. We have to stop believing in magic, because everyone says that they’re pro-technology, and, “Oh, we’ll just throw some technology at it.” And then the technology doesn’t perform. And then they blame the technology and decide that, “You know what, we should have bought different technology.”

The best studies we have come out of MIT, suggest for every dollar you’re spending on technology acquisition, you should be spending up to 10 on personnel, process redesign, and training. And we fail to make that investment, and so the technology doesn’t yield what it should. And again, we blame the technology, which doesn’t make us anti-technology. It just makes us think, “Oh, there’s some other technological solution out there.” And we have to banish that thinking. And so we banish the thinking that all I need are more lawyers or more budget for more lawyers or, oh, all we need is some technology. And you have to, again, think holistically about legal service delivery, about your process, about what problems you’re trying to solve, and what the best combination of people, process, and technology is available to you to solve those problems.

 

How to Get Law Firms to Embrace  Change

Chad Main: Changing internal legal processes is just one piece of the puzzle. The other puzzle pieces are law firms, and it’s no secret that change at law firms moves at a glacial pace, and that’s probably being generous. So what’s it take to get law firm buy-in?

Casey Flaherty: You demand that they change too. And you don’t just say some words. You actually go onsite and understand how they’re delivering legal services. Talk to them about ways that they can change, put together measurable improvement projects, and then you actually measure it. You come back three months later, six months later to see how they’re doing. And you make sure that not only are you continuously improving, but they’re continuously improving. And so you have to extend both the mindset and your attention to your entire supply chain. And I think when you do that, you’re going to find a lot of legal services both internally and externally that can be unbundled, and you’ll start to have a more diversified supply chain where you’re bringing in law companies where you do find technology that’s the right fit. And so you are replacing labor with technology. You’re also replacing labor with process and less expensive labor. And you’re doing this all the time. There is not finish line. There is no perfect end-state because even if you were to get there today, two years from now you’d be two years behind. And so it is a continuous process.

Chad Main: So it’s all good and well to talk about pushing law firms to change. But if you talk to lawyers at law firms, they’ll point out that despite clients complaining about high billing rates and waste in the process, they really aren’t pushing the lawyers to change. What does Casey say about that? He says if you’re in-house at a company and you’re not pushing law firms to do better, you really aren’t doing your job. In fact, Casey wrote a book about it called Unless You Ask. If you’re interested in checking that book out, I’ll put a link to it on the show notes on the episode page on tlpodcast.com.

Casey Flaherty: So you have to stop being vague. Any in-house counsel can say, “I wish my law firms were more efficient and innovative and cost-conscious.” You’re an in-house counsel. You are the purchaser. You can make the do that. It will require effort on your part. It might even require some uncomfortable conversations, and every now and then you might actually have to switch firms. But these, “I wish outside council did X,” … No, no. It is literally your job to make them do X. That doesn’t make me super popular to say it. And I wrote an entire guidebook for the association of corporate counsel entitled Unless You Ask: How to Get More From Your External Relationships. There’s a primer that I wrote for the buying legal council on service delivery reviews, much shorter than the guidebook, that outlines precisely how I would go about it. But it’s a menu, it’s not prescribed. It doesn’t say, “You have to do X.” Figure out what work you’re doing, figure out how it’s being done, figure out how it can be done better. Here’s the current state, there’s the future state, now how do we get from here to there? And if you’re not paying sustained attention and making progress towards that end-state, then you’re not doing your job.

Chad Main: But at the end of the day, Casey admits that the practice of law really is changing. It’s just not changing as fast as the way some people would want it.

Casey Flaherty: I would say it’s slower than most of us who think about it would expect, let alone like. So it’s slow and uneven. You might have a couple of corporate counsels who do something really interesting in one area, let’s say outside counsel management or information government or use of analytics or whatever it is. And then no one else does it.

And so you have all these outliers, and people look at the outliers and they start to tell themselves a story about change based on the outliers, not realizing that it’s not spreading beyond the outliers. And so the diffusion of innovations and legal is not what at least I expected. And from talking to people here at the conference and all the other conferences I go to, I know I’m not alone in that assessment. Anyone who’s been around for more than 10 years would have expected the world to change much more than it has in the last 10 years.

Chad Main: Do you think the pace of change will increase if people like you keep talking about it?

Casey Flaherty: I have no idea. I had coffee with the great Bruce MacEwen last night. Anyone who hasn’t read Tomorrowland, Bruce is so insightful. And Bruce, he lays out different scenarios for the future, all of them really well-drawn, very provocative. And he doesn’t predict. He has this great line about the future might be unknowable, but it isn’t unthinkable, and so let’s think about it, let’s talk about it. And I said to Bruce, that I have a particular view of the future, but I kind of lost any sense of time. I don’t have any strong predictions about how long it will take. And I will be so happy if it happens quickly, but I’m also prepared to be patient and have it be trench warfare and measure progress in inches. It’d be great to capture huge chunks of territory, but even if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t make change any less worthwhile.

And so I know I didn’t answer your question because I don’t have an answer. Five years ago I would have been very confident. Very confident. I would have put a marker in the ground. And it’s not that I’m afraid to bet. I’d bet my career on change. I’m not just pontificating from some position of security. I work in this space. My family eats based on whether or not I am right to a certain degree. But I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know if it’s going to pick up. But I know it’s happening, and I know it’s happening enough to keep me employed.

 

“Non-Lawyers” Are Very Important Change Agents

Chad Main: Most of the talk on today’s podcast has been focused on change within corporate legal departments or within a law firm. But no small portion of this change, even if it’s to be positive, will involve players without law degrees, people with expertise in technology, business, and project management. It’s also going to take a change in the way lawyers look at these people. They can’t be viewed as, “non-lawyers,” or lesser-thans, but they must be recognized as people important to the process because in fact they are.

Casey Flaherty: Again, I talked about the mindset shift with the supply chain. I think part and parcel with that is the mindset shift around what I call ally professionals, but with the rules we’ll called them non-lawyers. There’s a lot of different expertise that isn’t strictly legal, substantive expertise that can make a valuable contribution to the delivery of legal services. And so I think shifting your mindset about not just what is valued, but who is valued, and getting past our silly cast system where these other experts are treated like second-class citizens. I think that’s a great place to start. Now, that’s not a concrete step in a particular direction where, oh, you’ve installed this system. But I do think as a general mindset shift, it’s very important.

Chad Main: The last thing I talked about with Casey was a quote that I read in an article he had published that day. And by the way, if you don’t read Casey’s stuff, start today. It’s great work. There’s no question that he is one of the best writers out there on the changes to the practice of law and just the legal industry in general. You can find most of his stuff on Three Geeks in the Law Blog. At any rate, the quote I read that day that was so cool was that system amplifies talent.

Casey Flaherty: Well, it goes back to this idea of how do we leverage expertise through process and technology, because the argument I often get is about real lawyering, and that’s where the value is. And it’s essentially talent trumps system. That what’s important is that I’m a really smart lawyer, and what I do is valuable. So it might be true that I’m a little inefficient, but why don’t you just sit back and let me lawyer, let me do what I do because that’s where the value is. And I don’t completely discount that because talent matters and because lawyers do bring true value. But we can only afford so much lawyering. And so to get the maximum out of the lawyering we can afford, we need to situate them in systems that we properly leverage that talent, that we amplify that talent, that we augment that talent, that we have forced multipliers so that we can truly, truly extract full value from talent that is genuinely valuable.

And so I focus a lot on the system side because the talent’s already there. And the talent is in many ways enduring. We had talented lawyers in the ’80s. We have talented lawyers now. Lack of talent isn’t the problem that we’re trying to solve, how to leverage that talent is. And so I’ll often say that good lawyers aren’t scarce, good systems are. And so that’s where we should be focusing our efforts, on building those systems.

Chad Main: Well, that’s today’s episode, hope you enjoyed it. If you want to subscribe, you can check us out on pretty much any major podcast platform like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. If you want to get ahold of me, please shoot me an email. My email address is cmain@percipient.co, that’s C-M-A-I-N-@-P-E-R-C-I-P-I-E-N-T.CO. Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

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Episode 4: Dennis Garcia on Automation, Cybersecurity and the Cloud

In this episode we visited Microsoft Assistant General Counsel Dennis Garcia in his Chicago office. Dennis talked about a few things, including what he and others in the Microsoft legal department are doing to automate and streamline legal work (spoiler alert: bots are involved).

Dennis also talks about the benefits of lawyers using cloud computing and common sense tips law firms can take to shore up their cybersecurity.

Dennis closes out the interview discussing lawyers’ use of social media.

Here are links to a couple articles mentioned in this podcast: One on rules of professional conduct and ethical opinions addressing lawyers’ use of cloud computing and an article Dennis wrote on cybersecurity.

You can connect with Dennis on Twitter (@DennisCGarcia) or LinkedIn.

In this episode we also introduce a new segment we are adding to the podcast. Starting with this episode, we will include a short interview with the founder of a legal tech company to help get the word out about new apps and products aimed at making the lives of lawyers easier.

We start with Ryan Alshak, a lawyer and the founder of Ping, automated time keeping for attorneys.

 

Episode Credits:

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Photo Above: Microsoft

L.A. Law Theme: Written by Mike Post, Copyright 1986 Polygram Records

Droids: Lucasfilm, Ltd