How did you become involved in legal tech?
I have to blame it on being deeply involved in my firm’s Word Perfect to Word conversion project; that was the tipping point and probably gives away my age! But it truly brought out some problem-solving skills I didn’t even know I had. This was at a time when roundtripping of Word documents became so corrupt they were blowing up on clients and causing huge frustration and embarrassment for the firm. I loooooved the challenge of stabilizing Word documents. The more corrupt, the better!
Eventually, I found myself standing at the front of a classroom filled with our lawyers trying to convince them why Word, doc automation, and other Word add ons would change their lives. Very challenging to say the least. Fast forward a few years and I found myself geeking out in the world of records management and conflicts. Seriously? Yes. My job was to modernize and centralize these paper-laden areas. It taught me early on the challenges of change management. Not everyone was thrilled to step away from their typewriters and put a mouse in their hand. But it wasn’t just about implementing shiny new tech. It required meeting them where they were, developing a sense of trust, and showing them the bigger picture so that I could bring them along on the journey. It was one of my earliest forays in leading organizational change and I loved it!
What projects have you been focused on recently?
Bold Duck Studio just completed a very cool project for a massive global firm. It entailed the creation of a digital maturity model for legal. Outside of legal, these types of efforts may not be so novel, but inside legal, wow, so many people get digital transformation and maturity wrong. It’s not just a “tech thing.” It’s not exclusively about upgrading your platforms for seamless integration. It requires a holistic analysis of not only digital but also analog interactions across your entire ecosystem and their interplay. Evolving an organization’s digital fluency requires analysis of the culture, people/talent, processes/workflow, and technology which creates the overall digital experience for both your clients and within the organization itself. I’m enthralled with these efforts and am still uncovering how emerging tech, process reengineering, designing thinking, and change management all play a significant role in digital transformation.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that you find yourself returning to or that was particularly formative for you?
While at Seyfarth, I led what was then the world’s largest and most mature legal project management team. We had an extranet like many other BigLaw firms, and on my early LPM projects I tested out the flexibility and nuances of its functionality. Eventually, my LPM team stretched our off-the-shelf product as far as was possible and found it constraining for our needs. Thus, almost a decade ago, we built our own proprietary client collaboration platform called SeyfarthLink. The LPMs, along with a team of legal solutions architects and developers, led by my former partner Andrew Baker, designed our new platform and it was unlike any other in the industry at that time. Through our efforts, this client-facing team increased adoption and use of technology by the legal practitioners, making it more practical and accessible to them. This effort and this team changed how legal extranets were imagined and utilized within the legal industry. But more importantly, it elevated the “business of law” professionals’ hierarchy, not only within our firm but as a recognized game changer and competitive advantage for our competitors as well.
Our expertise with the platform and understanding of business needs earned us a seat at the table side-by-side with partners at client pitches and meetings. Clients readily accepted and welcomed us into those discussions. It forever changed the dialogue between a service provider and consumer. We were able to shift the conversation away from “legal expertise” (which is table stakes) to how we were going to do the work—not just the substantive legal work but also how our LPMs and LSAs were going to help solve client challenges and needs. While some challenged us (internally and externally) saying, “It’s just an extranet and nothing more; get over it,” they weren’t in the room to see the impact on the profession and how client relationships were transformed. But I knew because I sat at that table hundreds of times. When I left Seyfarth in 2018, we had client portfolio sites for most of our client base with hundreds of unique client interactions per day. It was our way of doing business and engaging clients who expressed great delight at having access to such a platform and team.
Today there are similar platforms like SeyfarthLink, such as HighQ, that many law firms have licensed. But, many have not invested in the client-facing business talent to help bring forward these platforms, thus many sit on the shelf behind the walls of IT. I see many firms’ investment in these platforms barely being utilized for anything more than a document sharing repository. It’s maddening, but they don’t know what they don’t know, and we are trying to close the gap between the necessary talent that firms need to invest in to fully utilize the platform along with integrated features to meet client needs such as doc auto, data visualization, workflow, and so on. There’s a long way to go but for those firms that make the necessary people and tech investments, it can be a game changer.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
I have a bit of a spin on this response: process mapping! If lawyers would accept the fact that legal work is a process, albeit sometimes a very complex process with high variability, they would have the ability to reimagine their services. It can start by dissecting their work to make it more efficient; looking for waste to remove and efficiencies to be gained by making sure the right people are doing the right work—which can also mean replacing manual steps with technology solutions. It is also a great opportunity to improve quality and minimize risk by embedding templates, checklists, and guidelines into the process. But it’s not just about efficiency and streamlining. It’s about the effectiveness and ensuring that the outcomes and the client experience are what you intended.
I’ve led over 200 process mapping sessions in the legal arena and pulling together the people responsible for providing common services to a client has so many benefits. It becomes a knowledge sharing forum to develop best practices; it creates a common understanding of the interplay between the team; it reveals the friction points and negative experiences for the client and the service provider, and at the end of the day, if done expertly, it is a forum for authentic introspection, unfettered ideation, and immense pride in creating something together which drives adoption of the new approach and improvements. I’ve seen these process reengineering sessions break down legacy hierarchical systems and accelerate the adoption of technology solutions because we were singularly focused on improving the human experience of the client and the team.
What’s really cool is that I’ve led these types of sessions with several groups from legal aid organizations who don’t have unlimited resources (both people or tech), but by using what they had at their disposal, they tackled very emotionally challenging days to serve even more clients in need of their services. I’ve also had the privilege of teaching law school students the power of approaching legal services as a process to be scrutinized and improved upon. Exposing our future lawyers to this thinking and making them comfortable with this tool provides them with a mindset and skill that they can bring forward as they enter the workforce. Of course, we also taught them how to be a strong facilitator and overcome barriers which will be vital as they are met with confusion and resistance from the rank and file they join, but I am thrilled that we have empowered them and believe they will persevere and be the much-needed change.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
Know your sh*t! There hasn’t been a tech class I taught, or a methodology that I preached, where I didn’t have the battle scars of wrestling with the application or core tenets of the methodology and techniques to show. I always make sure I have dealt with as many trials and tribulations of testing and applying how these approaches will work in the legal space before I stand up in front of anyone to lead or preach—whether it is project management, lean six sigma, scrum, and so on. Before adapting any of these for the legal industry, I made sure I learned, achieved certification, and then practiced them so that I could then translate and adopt what would resonate in legal. I think that has been extremely important because you will get challenged. And while there are going to be people that are more experienced and smarter, I know that I have invested the hard hours to develop the use cases and expertise that allow me to take these approaches and tools to drive adoption of technology or methods and lead change.
Plus, remember to always display confidence while also being humble and never ever lose your passion and curiosity.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
So I’m going to go off-script on this response, too. As we’ve seen, there are more and more women planting flags in legal tech innovation and leadership. It is impressive to hear about all of the legal tech startups led by women. There really is a movement that is a force to be reckoned with. But I want to take this opportunity and give a shout out to a couple of individuals who I have seen firsthand have a direct impact on women in legal—my current business partner, Josh Kubicki, and former colleague, Andrew Baker. These two have worked tirelessly to introduce new ideas and concepts to the legal industry and through their efforts, they have encouraged and supported many women.
When Andrew and I led the Client Solutions Group at Seyfarth, we identified many women who we believed would provide immense value to the team and the firm. Andrew was quick to provide every opportunity for their professional development, nurturing and positioning them directly with clients and firm leadership as hardcore application developers, data analysts, legal project managers, or legal solution architects. He was vocal and active in helping break down barriers and perceptions regarding their abilities. While I don’t have the tech chops that he does, he was also a huge advocate for me as a partner and leader within the firm regarding my role and involvement in the design and adoption of our technology solutions. He ensured that I received recognition for my efforts and contributions when he could have solely reaped accolades bestowed on him by leadership who were sometimes oblivious to my behind the scenes efforts on these fronts. Andrew also spent countless hours exposing me to knowledge areas and best practices like good UI/UX, Tufte, A/B testing, and other topics that enriched my own understanding and capabilities in tech. Little did he know that he had created a worthy opponent. We would debate for hours, sometimes heatedly and with much passion, over the design, priorities, and strategy of our initiatives but never with malice, as we designed and drove our firm’s brand differentiation, leading some of the industry’s most progressive undertakings at that time. The legal arena should join me in applauding Andrew’s investment in his female colleagues and the talent that he inspires. I know he made me a better version of myself and what I bring to the table.
Second, I want to recognize my partner, Josh Kubicki for his ability and willingness to maintain an unbiased and pragmatic perspective when he engages with colleagues, peers, and direct reports of any gender. But, to the point of this response, I have seen firsthand the impact Josh has had on women in legal—tech and otherwise. His patience and selfless investment in the women of a large team we were both on was remarkable. Although he is a licensed lawyer, his demeanor and actions completely obliterate stereotypes of arrogance and egotism. As women, we so often let our insecurities and self-doubt get the best of us in this male-dominated industry, but Josh is able to see past that and instill certainty and conviction when others would perceive our behavior as weak and frail. He truly brings out the best in everyone he works with but has especially provided both professional and personal growth opportunities to the women he has mentored and partnered with throughout his career. Josh has some of the strongest core values that I have witnessed. His vast and successful experiences from working in law departments, law firms, advising legal startups, and being his own entrepreneur have provided opportunities so many and I am always impressed by the statements made when I encounter another woman on which he has made his impact. They never fail to expound his virtues and the deep impression he made on them which helped to foster their continuous growth and successes. I am extremely fortunate that Josh recognized my talents and skills and chose me as a business partner on this journey. He believes in me even when I sometimes doubt myself. His strength and confidence in my expertise and capabilities have given me a new level of self-assuredness that I would not otherwise possess. For that, I will always be grateful.
So I want to close by applauding Andrew and Josh for what they have done to encourage and promote women in legal tech and generally in their professions. We need more men like them who don’t judge, who don’t bend the rules and make it easier just because we’re women, and who will defend and sponsor our efforts because we have earned them. They have made a significant impact and difference to this humbled and proud 2019 Women of Legal Tech Honoree and for that, I thank them from the bottom of my heart, as I wouldn’t be where I am without them and I eagerly look forward to their continued efforts as allies to women in the legal profession.