Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in the legal business?
I was an educator in my former life. I then started in this industry 16 years ago, as a trainer educating legal teams on how to leverage technology in their practice. My passion for learning and organizational development has carried forward in my career with the emphasis we place on education around eDiscovery and related technology in the marketplace. To this day, I leverage my educational background to find ways to bring services to market in a meaningful way, always trying to bridge the gap between thought leadership and practical entry points for our clients. You have to meet people where they are at, to ignite change.
What do you do for a living right now?
I run the Canadian division of Ricoh eDiscovery (aka Commonwealth Legal) and am responsible for driving our business strategy, introducing innovative new solutions, and contributing to the evolution of Ricoh’s emerging Service offerings.
After years of trying to explain what I do for a living, I am grateful for my new elevator speech using “Hillary Clinton’s Emails” as my example, which has made what we do in our niche industry more mainstream. As eDiscovery matures into more of a business process, I believe this niche industry has much to offer in solving broader business challenges around information management.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
I have a lot of empathy for people starting their careers in any field at this time. While it is exciting that there are so many emerging opportunities and possibilities at hand, it can also be overwhelming. The path ahead is not as predictable as it once was. There is a push for increased specialization in today’s economy (which means making choices early in your career), but there is also an increasing call for legal professionals to be more well-rounded – particularly around people and technology skills. This is a tall order and speaks to the critical challenges and level of change at hand in the industry.
I would also highlight that times of change require stewardship at every turn, so leadership and innovation skills are increasingly important. Lawyers of the future will also need to be business-minded, adaptive and even entrepreneurial to truly thrive in an evolving landscape.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is and who are the greatest influencers of that change?
I don’t think it is a question of how ready for change the industry is, so much as whether its constituents want to lead that change and create the future, or be at the effect of it. Unless the legal industry creates a renewed vision for its practice, the greatest influencers will come from outside. Industry disruption is not about how ready the participants are, but rather how ready the disruptors are to seize the opportunity at hand.
I really believe that we are on the cusp of an “Uber-esque” transformation in the industry. This is a time where the small disrupts the large. Converging trends change the landscape overnight, and it can only be understood in hindsight. What was once considered absurd can soon become the norm. A small example: I believe it was Richard Susskind who predicted long ago that email would become the predominant method of communication with clients, and his comments were considered disparaging and offensive at the time.
Some wait for change to happen, but the problem is there isn’t a memo or even a moment when you know a revolutionary change has occurred. Most of the time, it just seeps in and is suddenly part of the landscape – and that landscape has changed irreversibly. From this perspective, I don’t think the industry is ready as they aren’t putting their minds to these environmental factors.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
The greatest opportunity is usually related to the greatest challenge at hand. Today, clients have increasingly stringent budgets and higher expectations around the ability of legal teams to deliver timely, efficient and cost-effective access to critical evidence on their matter – which, ultimately, is all about reducing review costs. We are proud to be at the forefront of this trend with numerous case studies demonstrating 50%+ gains in cost-effectiveness of a more technology-driven approach to legal document review. It won’t be long before linear review is largely “extinct”. It simply isn’t sustainable. That is the challenge and the opportunity.
eDiscovery has sometimes been associated with “throwing lots of people at cases” – often in a big hurry. How has “people strategy” evolved? What’s happening in terms of “people innovation”?
This is an interesting question for me because the Canadian market has never approached eDiscovery the same way as in the U.S. We are a smaller legal community with a less litigious culture and a more pragmatic approach to handling higher volumes of data. For example, Early Case Assessment capabilities have been a fundamental part of our offering for more than 6 years. The tools are there to mitigate the need for this tactic, and we are one of the first eDiscovery partners globally to address this head on with Intelligent Review, which involves the complete integration of analytics and TAR capabilities into the document review process. We are essentially cannibalizing our own revenue opportunities to establish a new standard in the marketplace; however, we know these capabilities don’t happen overnight and want to play an active role in designing the future, not catching up with it.
Technology is often thought of as a silver bullet solution. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s part of a broader, innovative approach. What are your thoughts on the current state of technology? Are we seeing incremental improvement or bolder “innovation”?
I don’t believe that technology is a silver bullet solution, but rather that it moves us towards a more holistic approach to solving real-world problems. Technology is human-designed and human-driven, and it calls on us to bring our best talent and thinking to the problems at hand. The adage, “A fool with a tool is still a fool”, still holds true; it is the people and processes that surround technology that bring it to life. We see too many clients investing in “Porsche level” technologies, and not knowing how to get them out of second gear.
We also see this misconception in cases when firms and corporations bring eDiscovery operations in-house. It isn’t as simple as it looks. You are essentially creating a business (or at least a distinct operation) within a business, and that requires significant investments in team development and retention, robust and defensible processes, internal and external marketing, etc.
There is also the risk of investing in technology where change is constant. We see numerous disruptive technologies showing up on the periphery and, again, these technologies require an investment in people and processes (many of which will be reengineered). Of course, our recommendation is always to align your operation to service providers with strong capabilities in this arena so that you can respond to market changes more nimbly and boldly.
How important is the issue of “relationship” in client decisions?
Relationship is everything. But, what often gets overlooked is that the strength of any relationship is based on the integrity of the partnership, and the value that is recognized and harnessed in each partner. Historically, this has been challenging in the legal industry as service providers are often viewed and managed in a transactional way, rather than as partners. We live in a world of dynamic business ecosystems and this will naturally require law firms to open up their business and service delivery models to include complementary capabilities that are not core to their own. It comes down to bringing what you do best to the conversation and operating in the best interests of the end client and business objective – reliable and cost-effective access to evidence.
Do you have ways in which you can measure client service and satisfaction in both quantitative and qualitative ways?
At the end of the day, the business challenge we are solving is managing the turbulence of variables and uncertainties that are inherent to the discovery of evidence in a more proactive and transparent manner. As a result, our satisfaction metrics are largely centered around timeliness, accuracy, defensibility and adherence to a predictable budget. We have the benefit of serving a cross-section of clients across industries – regionally, nationally and globally. This gives us unique insight into the emerging needs of the marketplace. We also leverage our ISO 9001:2008 Certification, and our culture of continuous improvement that goes with it, to formally measure the quality and value of our deliverables. We made this investment 10 years ago in an attempt to set standards in what once was the “wild west”. To this day, we proactively leverage our tacit learnings to evolve our processes and delivery models in real-time and this gives us a huge competitive advantage from an operational capabilities perspective.
As a professional, what do you feel makes you different? What is the quality or attribute that you feel has been most helpful in advancing your clients’ interests – and for which you would like to be known? Feel free to share an example!
Coming from outside of the industry has provided me with a fresh perspective on the organizational challenges of law firms and corporate legal departments. I have also been very fortunate to be part of a dynamic, entrepreneurial environment for a long time. I am proud to lead a culture that is comfortable with change and inspires ongoing innovation.
I also pride myself on being a lateral thinker that can tackle any problem. It is a muscle you need to build in a challenging industry and working under such high-pressure demands.
What’s your favorite city?
I love to travel and have visited over thirty countries but, honestly, I love coming home to Toronto. It is a welcoming and multicultural city made up of intersecting communities, as well as a growing hub for innovation. It is a great basecamp in an increasingly global economy.
What would you like to be known for?
At the end of the day, I am a life-long learner and love to inspire this in others. I try to empower others to see the challenges in front of them as an opportunity for their own evolution and transformation. The mountain in front of you is the mountain you are meant to climb. Embrace it!