Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
Getting to where I am today has been life’s second-greatest happy accident (the first being meeting my wife). I always wanted to be an actor, went to Tisch at NYU, realized my calling was direction, graduated, worked as a theatrical producer and film maker internationally doing almost entirely original work for over a decade, and during that time I started recruiting in eDiscovery as a means to support my artistic ambitions. I never expected to fall in love with the eDiscovery community and find my real calling was in professional representation of those people . . . but here we are. My brother is an incredible lawyer, so perhaps it’s in the blood, but there is something about the legal technology community that is welcoming, open to the perspective of the younger generation and rewarding of the hard work and discipline that I simply was not finding in the entertainment business.
I have since found that building the human capital infrastructure of law firms, legal departments and global service providers isn’t that different from casting and directing a Broadway musical. You have to know your audience, gather the right players of various skills and experience, understand the vision you are all striving to achieve and unite those people under a singular culture. I’ve been building teams my entire life; it has just been infinitely more fun, lucrative and personally rewarding to do it in legal technology for the last 15 years.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am the founder and CEO of TRU Staffing Partners, representing hundreds of corporations, consultancies, service providers and law firms as well as thousands of professionals in the cybersecurity, eDiscovery and privacy verticals globally. We have been an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing American Company for the last two years in a row, a repeatedly ranked #1 National Legal Services/Litigation Support/Outplacement Career Transition Coaching Staffing Agency by the National & New York Law Journal, and we love what we do!
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
There is a saying in the recruitment world that “you are only as good as your last placement.” That aphorism is a constant point of reflection for me. I think about it all the time. On some days, it’s a humbling reminder that the work we do is about individuals and nurturing the health, wealth, growth and sustainability of their careers. On other days, it is an affirmation that too often recruitment services are judged on the measure of “what have you done for me lately.” In 2018, I will likely cross my 3,000th placement since I began a career in legal technology staffing. My greatest success, I hope, is transcending a single placement and instead being known for passionately representing a community as my life’s work and being a critical variable in the acceleration and maturation of the careers of thousands of professionals in the legal technology and information security industries. At least I hope that is my greatest triumph! It is certainly my intention. Impacts are made in moments, but triumphs take time. I treasure every moment of impact I make with a client or candidate and will let time tell the story of what should be considered triumph.
Who – or what – inspires you and why?
I’m surrounded by some pretty amazing people, and I have always drawn inspiration from those who are close to me. Remember, I was a theater and film practitioner before I found a career in eDiscovery, cybersecurity and privacy. Collaboration is at the core of my creative DNA. Inspiration can come in many forms, but it always leads to feeling and then action. Everyone on my staff at TRU inspires me to be a better leader on a daily basis, and in turn, I feel a responsibility to inspire and enable them to be better professionals. I can be dramatic at times! But that’s because I want them to feel and then act on that feeling. Inspiration isn’t always rainbows. Failure can inspire as much as success, and giving everyone around you enough room to be inspired in both ways allows you the freedom to fail and succeed with them, together. This dynamic is core to maintaining a circle of inspiration with the people who work with you, for you and whom you service. If you can give and draw inspiration from them daily – you’re golden.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
I try not to place judgment on where the industry is headed (that would cloud my objectivity when representing people and companies within it). Wherever the legal industry is headed is also where I am (and TRU is) headed – no matter what the direction! My responsibility as an agent to companies and professionals in this space is to stay on the bleeding edge of trends in the job market, to see where opportunity lies in the future, then to help my clients find the candidates who can get them there and guide talent toward acquiring the skills demanded by the clients.
Having said that, the legal industry undoubtedly is going through a major reformation, and professionals who can wield technology are at the center of that change. That has been the focus for TRU and remains the focus as we expand within legal and beyond legal. That’s why, for the past seven years, we have been partnering with leading institutions to offer educational opportunities and training for job candidates in the security and legal technology industries through the TRU Staffing Partners Scholarship Program. It’s important to us to not just get people jobs but get them the training they need to be successful.
How deep do you think the inroads of technology will be in the industry?
Deep. Very deep. I don’t self-identify as a legal talent agent, I represent an order of that class that I call legal technology. It is a huge and growing classification and perhaps the only professional pathway in the legal industry that can offer the financial and vertical mobility comparable to practicing law.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Contemplate a career in legal technology, not just legal. An enriched sense of how technology can be applied to the practice of law is essential to representing professionals in any manner, but certainly in high-stakes litigation, investigation, corporate, regulatory or compliance law. You also do not have to be a lawyer to contemplate a career in law. The legal industry needs more technologists who have an enriched appreciation of the law to participate in its industry evolution.
The other bit of advice I give to all professionals young and old alike: If you want to make the big bucks, you better be involved in business development. That applies to lawyers and nonlawyers. Relationships drive revenue in this industry, and you are well advised to make many of them as you begin your professional journey.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
As ready as any institution as ancient as the practice of law. Technology is once again changing the way we as people practice century-old traditions and appropriately forcing the legal industry to consider what changes must be made or not made to maintain our values while expanding our prosperity as an institution. It’s an old adage that lawyers are the last to adapt to technology change, but the legal industry is changing at rapid pace largely due to the areas of technology evolution that are affecting the masses. Things like privacy and cybersecurity have moved from a corporate consciousness to a social consciousness. People feel like these issues affect them personally. Remember, privacy invasion used to be reserved for the rich and famous . . . but no more. This populous response has been the tipping point for validating the birth of industries: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for privacy, the Sony breach for security. Privacy and security are going to be rapid and constantly evolving areas of discipline in law and technology for the foreseeable future and will force changes whether the legal industry is ready or not.
In 10 years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
All of the above. Some organizations will resist change and innovation, others will embrace it and aim to win the long game. New players may not be dark horses we don’t know about yet, but rather newly formed conglomerates of companies merging who currently compete or complement each other. This has been the trend in eDiscovery and will soon become the trend in the security software and services vertical. I personally don’t believe in the silver bullet philosophy that some grandiose technology will emerge to solve our security and privacy concerns, no. People will evolve their experiences related to how these issues are created and solved, then spread that knowledge. People never seem to fully commoditize in legal technology, which is another reason I enjoy working in this vertical. People matter most.
One altered state everyone has begun embracing is the global shift to surge staffing augmentation for legal technology professionals including cybersecurity and privacy pros. Contract staffing was once reserved for review attorneys, but the new normal is the engagement and scaling of legal tech resources to combat the constant ebb and flow of litigation and regulatory compliance work. Freelancing has become an increasingly utilized modus operandi for many hiring managers in the corporate, law firm and service provider silos. This altered state where both employee and employer choose the lifestyle and business solution of staffing-on-demand for roles that once were impossible to fill in any regard is a result of the talent supply-demand equilibrium finally balancing, allowing for employers to save money by scaling when they need talent and employees increasing earning potential and time off by moving into a contract model. TRU’s deeply invested in contract deployment of human resources in all our verticals of expertise and this investment is at the core of why we have grown so rapidly as an organization these last few years.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
Yes, the distinction must continue. Bar-certified attorneys warrant and have earned their distinction, and the advice they give is legal advice. However, at the intersection of the law and technology are knowledge bases and experiences that qualify a growing subset of both consultants and lawyers to give advice about the same or related topics. Privacy is a perfect example. We represent practicing attorneys and nonattorney consultants that are doing very similar work as it relates to advising on issues of privacy and GDPR readiness. The same was true of eDiscovery when it was in the spotlight in the mid-2000s. Many of the consultants have J.D.s, which is great professional leverage, but are not representing the work they do as legal counsel. The lines are blurry, especially in areas of practice like privacy that have yet to be highly regulated in the States.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep nonlawyer investors out, but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
If you’re asking whether private equity or venture capital will want to buy equity in law firms in the United States or perhaps American law firms will push to go IPO, I doubt it. Why would they? The nonlawyer investors are already deeply entrenched in much of the legal industry – just not through outside counsel. That’s not where the money is for investors. PE and VC are investing billions into the legal service provider community, there are multiple publicly traded consulting firms with large percentages of their revenue based in legal technology software and services, and the legal department operations movement is just beginning as corporations take more work in-house or push more legal work to vendors. So, from my perspective, nonlawyer investors are already deeply involved in the industry of law and are driving much of the conversation in the community. From the time I first entered this industry to today, I have witnessed the pendulum swing from hiring happening primarily in-house at the Am Law 200 to almost a 65 percent job openings market share now on the service provider side of the industry. Let’s not kid ourselves, nonlawyer investors are part of the legal industry and the dynamic between corporations, their outside counsel and the legal service providers is now a three-dimensional relationship, not a linear one.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
People. People are the only catalyst for change because that is who we are trying to change in order to evolve. That’s why I am in the people business.
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
Semantically speaking, the profession and business are one and the same to me. The practice of law and the business of law however are two very different things. The business of law involves more than just the practice of law. Those who want to practice law do not always embrace the business of law. Not practicing law does not make a legal job any less a profession.
What do you consider to be the greatest challenge facing the industry?
Accepting the need for reinvention. Legal is no longer able to comfortably rest on one set of knowledge bases. Our world is evolving at a rapid speed, and professionals in the legal community have to constantly keep reinventing and reinvesting in their skills to keep up with the cycles of societal change. I write a monthly column on certifications in the legal technology industry for Legaltech News and strongly encourage all professionals in the space to always be pursuing something – some additional accreditation. The pursuit can never stop and CLEs are no longer enough to truly stay substantively relevant if you are an attorney in legal technology. We never stop reinventing here at TRU and neither should you. That mantra is at the core of what the community requires from us to properly represent them past, present and future.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Security and privacy with a healthy maintenance of eDiscovery and information governance. That’s where the jobs are and will be for some time. Sprinkle in some AI, legal analytics and blockchain segmentation and you have a myriad of specialties to pursue – all of which have communities and pathways toward entrée and certification that are unique to them. The future of legal technology will be in nuance and specialization, not generalist knowledge. Going deep will likely present greater career leverage in the long term than going wide.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?
More regulation means more work for legal technologists. GDPR has been a windfall of opportunity for professionals with some to tons of experience in privacy prior to 2018. Getting the country or the world compliant creates sophisticated jobs. Period.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
I would change very little. I am really blessed and got to where I am in a very roundabout unexpected way. I am surrounded by amazing people. I care a lot about what I do and the people and companies I represent. There are probably some people I could have been kinder to along the way.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
(Ha!) No. Mainly because I like the unique experience of doing business with law firms (and many of the people I represent like the uniqueness of working at law firms). I think the culture of law firms would inevitably change toward more of a corporate culture if made accountable to a different kind of ownership. There is great beauty in the dance between corporate and law firm culture. It always changes, but it is never quite the same. There is a need and a place for both I think in the legal industry.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Living in Taormina, raising my kid(s) with my wife and training to compete on Top Chef! Or maybe becoming a professional boxing referee. I think I have one more radical professional reinvention left in me in this lifetime, though I can see myself growing TRU exponentially for quite some time.
What would you like to be known for?
What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
I wear my heart on my sleeve. Often to a fault. Few surprises here. People generally know where they stand with me. I collect Labbits. If you know what that is – it may surprise you.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
I am a huge boxing fan. I actually wrote a musical about boxing. I train. I watch fights whenever I can. It’s a sport that for me is filled with so much heart, and it’s a physical discipline that I can take with me anywhere and practice at any age. Boxing is also, to me, just the greatest metaphor for almost everything in life. “Roll with the punches . . . Don’t punch yourself out . . . Don’t get caught against the ropes . . . Keep your guard up . . .” I could go on.
What’s your favorite sports team?
Team GGG; TMT; Team Cotto.
What’s your favorite city?
Domestic: Charleston, South Carolina, specifically Folly Beach. International: Hoi An, Vietnam, is incredible to visit, but I’d live in Taormina, Sicily, and die happy.
What’s your favorite food?
I’m a good old-fashioned American boy at heart, so give me a burger with fries and a Coke and we’re solid.
What’s your nickname – and why?
If you were to find me in a ring, with gloves on, you would find the word “HEADHUNTER” across the waistband of my shorts. But my friends all know I’m a humble “Comeback Kid.” You can knock me down, but good luck trying to knock me out.