Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in the legal business?
I wanted to be a lawyer in grade school. Several family friends were attorneys and Judges, so it was very natural for me to move in that direction. Law school was an amazing experience for me. Law practice, and the prevailing business model for the delivery of law services, was much less amazing. Having run businesses before going back to law school, I could not believe that a 200 year old business model was still the prevailing approach. I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up working in a non-traditional delivery of legal services.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am the Director of Managed Review Services for Ricoh. This is the culmination of an 18-year history in the eDiscovery industry where I have been vendor, law firm and client side at different points. I stumbled upon eDiscovery as a practicing attorney, and found that I enjoyed the challenge of combining large teams and processes together to battle mountains of information with tight deadlines. I also really enjoy working as a member of a team to create a successful outcome for our clients.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
Early in my career, I was lucky to play a major role in the AT&T and Bell South merger/2nd request. At the time, I worked for a firm that had tremendous loyalty to their team members and dedication to work quality. I learned firsthand that the quality of the work dictates the process, and that the overarching context of quality is respect for all individuals on the team. This is now my own personal touchstone for any business group I work with or document review process I help to create. The result is that my greatest success stories now all have the same ending; We delivered a better quality result than our client expected, in less time and under budget.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
I firmly believe the industry is headed in the right direction. Every day, I see customer loyalty resulting from a combination of high levels of service and quality work, consistent gains in efficiency, and cost reductions. In any other industry, the ability to deliver any one of these is seen as good business and indicates that the industry is headed in the right direction. I also believe that the reason the legal industry is conflicted is because there are too many attorneys who enter the legal profession for noble reasons, only to find out that the work-life balance and salaries do not meet their needs, and end up leaving the practice of law within 5 years of graduation.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
I work with attorneys from all walks of life. They come in early. They stay late. They work quietly to ensure their document review is perfect. They care about the outcome for the client. They really want to help the law firms who hire us. They are completely professional and work as hard as they can right up to the conclusion of every project. I see nobility and grace when I watch them put ethics and client needs ahead of their own. I am inspired to be a better person through their example.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Approach this industry with caution. Be very clear about what you are going to do with your law degree before you even think about applying to law school. Imagine going into a masters program thinking “I will figure out the focus of my program after I start.” I see this all the time around law school. I have heard that since about 1980, there have been more law students than practicing attorneys with half leaving the profession early in their career. Without a clear idea of how you are going to make a living in the industry, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and crushing debt loads. Like any business you have to find something you can be great at, and then work your tail off to be great. In the legal industry the pressures and competition are exponential. There are so many highly intelligent, highly competitive, and highly motivated attorneys all vying for the same positions, that you cannot come into law school thinking it is a vehicle for a career yet to be determined.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
The continually increasing volume of discoverable data has totally changed the game. It is now nearly impossible to separate the practice of law from the understanding and use of advanced technology. Likewise, data driven techniques and metrics are forcing a more collaborative approach across a broader team of specialists, which is impacting the ability of any one individual to control the entire case. Newly minted and tech savvy attorneys entering the industry also seem to be much more capable of questioning the long accepted “norms of suffering” as the only option for work-life balance. A law degree actually makes you much more resilient and adaptive in the larger marketplace, and every law graduate has many options beyond traditional law practice. Thinner margins will lead to attorneys voting with their feet.
Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
As a leader, I am forced to adapt faster than I have ever experienced before. Those who want to survive will need to fully embrace technology to help meet client needs. The days of the ill-informed client have passed. A leader needs to spend more time listening to clients, partners, and team members to drive an ever changing array of micro-strategies. Time-to-market for any offering becomes the primary driver of competitive success. In many ways, the legal industry is the last to the party on this front.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
We cannot pump gas without interacting with advanced technology. The next two phases of technology infusion primarily focus on the human technology interface, and on the abstraction of large data sets. Visualization and making meaning out of data will become an incredibly powerful tool for those seeking a competitive advantage in field of law where we use facts (data) to tell the story in a way that is most advantageous to our clients’ desired outcomes. Powerful search and voice recognition is already becoming ubiquitous, but layers of visualized data have not yet become standardized across platforms. This means there is work to do, and the market will reward those that do this the best.
We also see growing expectations on the part of buyers, as informed buyers – not just on services pricing but in terms of the “experience”: Aside pricing, what are the drivers you’re seeing in client behavior towards selecting and engaging providers?
Low price and high quality are now fully expected. Client service is once again becoming paramount in the client experience and their decisions to buy from a vendor a second time. The focus has really been on reduction in costs since 2008 and the challenge for vendors has been to find ways to use technology to replace personalized service that gets lost in thinner margins. Likewise, with all the data breach threats in the world, security infrastructure and the ability to guarantee the safety of client data is essential. It is no longer a checkbox in the buying process.
How important is the issue of communication and expectation management to you and your clients?
We are dealing with the overwhelming volumes of data and the pressures on substantive legal teams to do more with less. Process transparency, succinct and regular reporting, and well established feedback and continuous training loops have become absolutely essential to nurturing a long term client relationship. Having well established protocols around these areas and communicating them consistently as early as possible, dramatically increases the chances that our clients will have a highly satisfying experience.
Finally… a little fun.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Working with my hands making furniture and art.
What would you like to be known for?
A life well lived full of people who really loved me.
What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
I love cooking and can take almost any two ingredients and turn it into something delicious.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
Woodworking and being on the water paddling are neck and neck.
What’s your favorite sports team?
I love the NY Rangers and the UCONN Women’s Basketball team where my younger daughter Sage is going to school. I have been following both for years.
What’s your favorite city?
Right now, my favorite city is Denver because my two oldest kids Amelia and Ethan live out there and it just has this great vibe; full of growth, energy, youth, and adventure.
What’s your favorite food?
Sour Cherry Preserves from the trees in my backyard.
What’s your nickname – and why?
Thach has always been the one that gets bestowed. Little weird now because the same is true for my youngest son, Jack.